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Welcome to the growing community inside the Monkey Shack. The business and marketing landscape is changing dramatically each and everyday, and this is where we come to discuss anything and everything related to business and marketing trends, observations, and strategy.

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Since this blog has become is focused more on my thoughts and insights into the business and marketing world, Facebook has become my outlet for sharing what is going on with my life outside of work. Stop on by and check it out!

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Nehren Family Blog

Have to admit, my wife is the one who does a better job keeping the family blog updated. Want to know which child drew on the walls or emptied the cereal onto the floor? Then check out the Nehren Family blog. Its private, but send us a request on the main page and if you're worthy, we'll let you in!

Nehren Blog


I currently work as the Director of Strategic Planning and Research at Richter7, the most creative and decorated agency in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Dec 31, 2008

Yes, all marketers are liars

Well, at least some of them are. And I had to be suspicious of one advertiser I came across online the other day. First I saw these two ads on a website I was visiting:

The ads invited me to click on the ad to read someone's story about how they were able to lose weight so quickly. But what caught my eye first was that neither of the two ads matched. Even more curious was that ABC would allow their logo to appear right alongside the logos of competitors CNN and CBS News. Unlikely that a major media company would do that. So I clicked through to see what I would find.

The ads took me to a blog written by a woman named Tanya, who says she is setting up the blog to document her 10-week weight loss effort. Strange, isn't it, that a woman would buy ads to direct people to read her blog?

There was even more strangeness. There is only one blog post, dated December 3rd, meaning that Tanya would have made her first post at the start of her weight loss campaign, then gone in regularly and edited that original post by adding her latest update, as well as changing the date. That's not likely either. A blogger would just create a new post each day or week throughout their weight loss efforts. Also, there are no links to her other blogs she supposedly maintains, no pictures of family, and some details about her intimacy with her husband that a lot of people wouldn't float into cyberspace.

It got more and more blatant the deeper into the content I went. There were two links towards the bottom, one linking to a site selling acai powder, the other selling a colon cleaning antioxidant.

So far this site is looking like some marketer's poorly conceived attempt to jump into social media to pitch their product. That was confirmed when I went to the comments, all of which were posted between November 13 and November 21. But wait, she didn't even finish her weight loss campaign until December 3rd? So I tried to make a comment, but to do had to enter my email address (my fake one I use for these things, I'll wait to see if they send me anything). But after submitting my comment, it didn't appear!

The last thing I did was checked into who owned the domain name. A search on WHOIS showed it had been registered using a privacy service called Moniker. Whenever you register a website, your name, phone number, even address shows up on the WHOIS directory, meaning anyone can type in a URL you own and see your information. These privacy services cover that information so that it isn't so easily available. It also means marketers can use it to cover themselves so that a phony blog isn't so easily traced back to them. Then I checked the domain ownership of the two websites for the acai and antioxidant the blog linked to. Surprise! They too were covered through Moniker. What a coincidence!

I had to ask myself why they went through so much trouble to cover what it was so obvious they were trying to do. Many marketers have ventured into the world of social media, and most of them fail at it. At the same time, people are becoming increasingly frustrated with marketers who thrust themselves into social media world where many don't think they belong. These types of half-brained campaigns don't help any of that.

Why not be transparent? If you truly have a great product and story to tell, why not tell it? Why do you have to hide behind the alias of Tanya who doesn't even exist? Why not set up a website that touts your product, but provides context, authenticity, and support? Set up a campaign and call it the 10 Week Challenge. Give users and potential users of your product a chance to interact with each other, talk about their successes and failures and the role your product has played in their weight loss efforts, to build an online community and support group. Become the facilitator of something major happening within their lives and in their networking and interactions with each other.

Transparency and authenticity will become increasingly important across the board in 2009. Changing demographic and psychographic groups are calling for it, and corporate America is forced to now take strides to restore consumer trust in the wake of the economic collapse. Be open and honest about who and what you are, and where you are heading. Consumers will respect that. They crave that. Hiding behind fake websites and bloggers only leads people to think you really don't have much of a story to tell in the first place.

Leia Mais…
Dec 30, 2008

My iPhone hopes are dashed to pieces

As I talked about on here a few weeks back, there is a $99 iPhone. But not at Walmart. Meaning, once again, I have no reason whatsoever to get excited about the mammoth Super Walmart being built in my town.

Speculation has been brewing for months that Apple would try to make the iPhone more broadly available by distributing it through the world's largest retailer. Walmart still plans on selling the phone, but it won't be at the steep discount previously reported. Instead, AT&T will be the low-priced leader, selling $99 refurbished handsets for a limited time.

Walmart will charge $197 for the entry-level 8 gigabyte phone with a two-year AT&T contract. WOO-HOO! That's a $2 SAVINGS than what you'd pay through AT&T! Not exactly the heavy discount everyone had been expecting from the low cost retailer. Meanwhile, AT&T will sell refurbished 8GB models for $99 with a two-year contract, and a 16GB iPhone for $199. The phones will be available until AT&T runs out of stock.

So what does "refurbished" mean exactly? AT&T defines them as "previously owned devices that have been unused or lightly used and returned during the 30-day trial period."

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Dec 29, 2008

Innovating in the Great Disruption

While the global economy began slowing down in late 2007, forces transforming the face of business trace back more than a decade. Over that time period, technological improvements have made it ever easier to start and scale a business. Convergence went from being a cliché to a reality. Companies from countries like China, India, and Brazil burst onto the world stage. The global slowdown coupled with the credit crunch in late 2008 accelerated these forces.

If sagging employment and dwindling economic prospects led historians to term the 1930s the Great Depression, perhaps it is appropriate to tab today's hyper-competitive market where competitive advantage dissipates in a heartbeat the "Great Disruption."

In 2009, managers will realize that they are no longer dealing with a crisis; they are dealing with a condition. In the Great Disruption, companies simply can't anticipate that today's competitive advantage to last for more than a few years. Former Intel Chairman Andy Grove anticipated this more than a decade ago when he wrote, "Only the paranoid survive."

While companies might want to return to the corporate equivalent of comfort food--cost-cutting and a focus on the core business--the Great Disruption won't allow it.

Some companies have been developing their innovation abilities for years. They are in good position to seize the opportunities that always present themselves in tough economic climates. Companies that are in the beginning of the innovation journey need to accelerate capability-development efforts or will find themselves simply unprepared for the fight ahead. Industries that had already been grappling with disruptive threats for years--like newspaper companies--will face intense pain as they struggle to find a safe haven in today's brutal economic climate.

Thriving in the Great Disruption requires a particular breed of innovator. Specifically, innovators should look to master three disciplines:

  1. Placing a premium on progress. While more and more companies recognize the name of the game is transformation, the tolerance for blind experimentation has never been lower. Innovators will need to continue to find creative, cheap ways to bring their ideas forward. Fortunately, they can tap into a plethora of powerful tools to facilitate rapid learning.
  2. Mastering paradox. Leaders in most Fortune 500 companies grew up in an era where they could succeed largely by exploiting their existing business. Today's leaders need to master both exploitation and exploration. They need to develop the ability to rely on precise data in their core business and intuition and judgment when they are creating new growth businesses. They have to live the old F. Scott Fitzgerald mantra, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the same mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
  3. Learning to love the low end. In the dark days of October and November, consumers flocked to discounters like Wal-Mart and McDonald's. Increasingly value conscious consumers and hungry low-cost competitors mean that innovators have to learn how to love low-end business. That doesn't necessarily mean that companies have to slash prices. Rather, they have to figure out how to deliver what consumers in low-end segments consider value.

The world of innovation is going through important changes. A generation ago, many thought innovation was unpredictable and random. Those with this perspective would either leave innovation to "creative geniuses" or seek to intentionally insert unpredictability into their innovation efforts (picture unfocused brainstorming efforts with attendees dressed in ridiculous costumes).

Over the past generation, path-breaking academic research and work by companies like Procter & Gamble and IBM has shown how innovation can be managed like any other corporate process. We're not yet at the point of perfect predictability, and there still are many important innovation questions that are difficult to answer. But innovators have a playbook that can help them even in these highly uncertain times.

The innovation genie isn't going back in the bottle. Entrepreneurs and corporate innovators will continue to introduce disruptive innovations that transform existing markets and create new ones. In fact, the Great Disruption demands that companies make innovation a strategic priority, or suffer the consequences.

Thanks to Scott Anthony, Harvard Business Review

Leia Mais…
Dec 23, 2008

Celebrity Endorsements

The following article comes from The Onion, making fun of some of the ridiculousness that sometimes surrounds celebrity product endorsements. Making it even more amusing was how it mentions Accenture, an account I worked on briefly at Y&R in New York City.

I Couldn't Help But Notice Your Product Hasn't Been Endorsed By Anyone Yet

By Tiger Woods | The Onion

My specially designed Tiger Woods TAG Heuer watch read 11:45 a.m. yesterday when I got back from the practice range. After washing up and shaving with my favorite Tiger Woods Gillette Champions razor and getting in a few rounds of EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08, I picked up the copy of Golf Digest on my coffee table—the one with my ad for TLC Laser Eye Centers. What caught my attention, however, was an advertisement on the adjoining page for your product, Pine-Sol.

Call me crazy, but it looks like you're lacking a big-time celebrity endorser. Yes, you have that sassy fat black woman who appears in commercials and print ads, but she's hardly a celebrity. I'm talking about someone with name recognition. Maybe even someone who's won, say, 64 professional golf tournaments, 13 major championships, and has been named PGA Tour Player of the Year nine times? Your lady may be funny, but is she the most marketable athlete in the world with a supermodel wife, a new baby girl, millions in the bank, multiracial appeal, and a great smile?


Even now, I just can't stop thinking about how foolish you've been for never approaching me about endorsing Pine-Sol. Is it the money that concerns you? Because let me tell you something: When you are dealing with a Tiger Woods endorsement, money should be the last thing on your mind. What you should be thinking is how, with my face on every container, we are going to move more Pine-Sol than you ever thought possible.

Look, when you get Tiger Woods, you're getting Tiger Woods—the guy who made it cool for kids to want to play golf.

Bottom line, you need me, and I'm ready to break into the domestic-products arena. Despite my work with Accenture, many people still think of me as cold and calculated. A couple of Pine-Sol ads where my mom shows me how easy it is to clean my bathroom ("Oh Mom, you're embarrassing me!"—you know, that kind of crap) and we're all set.

But if you don't move on this fast, tomorrow I'm all over the TV with my new Tiger Woods–strength Lysol Wipes. Think about it.

Plain and simple, I would do an excellent job endorsing Pine-Sol. You know it, I know it, the makers of the all-new Gatorade Tiger most certainly know it. A high quality, all-purpose cleaner such as Pine-Sol deserves an endorser who is an ultra competitor—someone who will go to the mat for you no matter what. No way I'm going to go halfway like Roger Federer or David Beckham would.

See, Tiger Woods likes to get his hands dirty. As your front man, I would work day and night with your scientists to create an all-purpose cleaning formula worthy of the Tiger Woods name. We'll call it "Tiger-Sol" and it will come in a variety of pleasing scents, including Tiger-Berry, Tiger-Apple, Tiger-Peach, Lemon-Tiger—you get the picture. And when Tiger-Sol hits stores, those other bush-league cleaners will have no business even being on the same shelves, let alone trying to make the same bathroom sink sparkle.

I can do it all. Humorous commercials where I'm putting for the U.S. Open championship in my bathtub and I notice there's grime between my ball and the drain that will force the putt off-line. How do I get rid of the grime? Pine-Sol. I sink the putt, the gallery in my bathroom goes crazy, I do one of my signature fist pumps, and you just sold 3 million bottles of Pine-Sol.

Then we move into more artsy commercials where I'm hitting golf balls in slow motion in the rain and my voice-over comes in and says, "Pine-Sol." And for prime-time TV, we'll do one of those mass-appeal commercials where I clean a kitchen with Asian, white, and black kids. We all laugh and start splashing each other, and I get hit on the cheek with a big wad of soap suds. I make my upset face and there's a pause, because all the kids think I'm going to get angry, but I don't. I laugh it off because I'm Tiger Woods and America loves me.

Within a week you'll have kids demanding their parents buy Pine-Sol because Tiger Woods just made cleaning the house awesome. They'll associate your product with 400-yard drives, and being handsome, fit, and effortlessly charming. Then they're hooked on Pine-Sol from the age of 5 until the day they die.

In the end, this is all very simple. Basically, what you have to ask yourself, Pine-Sol, is do you want to make half a billion dollars today or not? That's it. And if there's still any doubt in your mind, think about this: If I've convinced an entire populace that I drive a Buick, no doubt I can sell a bottle of Pine-Sol.

Leia Mais…

Creative Risk

According to a recent study, 65% of marketing executives and 45% of advertising executives think their firms don't take enough risks when deploying marketing and advertising projects.

Among marketing executives, only 33% said they take the "right" amount of risks, and a mere 1% said they take too many. Nearly two-thirds believe their firm either doesn't take enough risks or plays it too safe when developing creative work for clients.

Companies tend to become more risk-averse in an uncertain economy,” said Megan Slabinski, executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service for advertising and marketing professionals who backed the study. “But when budgets are lean, it can be an opportune time for firms to try new or unproven promotional strategies and distinguish themselves from competitors.”

Its a good think that marketing and advertising professionals see opportunities to continue to push their own levels of creativity. That's why clients hire them. Good, creative ideas seem to perish when there’s no one to effectively champion them. But all too often, those same ad and marketing execs fail to view things from their audience’s perspective. Understanding the challenges decision makers face and the pressures they are under will help in presenting the most relevant information, and sell ideas in ways that c-suite offers understand and value.

Leia Mais…
Dec 22, 2008

Debunking the myth

An article appeared from the AP this morning describing how my state, Utah, is considering cutting its advertising expenditure due to a budget shortfall. And Utah isn't alone. Whether it's state government or business, in times of recession the first thing CFOs often do is look at advertising and cut it. It looks good on an Excel spreadsheet. But advertising is crucial in slow times.

It makes sense. You have a slow season, so you need to get people in your door. How do you lure those customers in? You have to advertise. Once you cut your marketing, it's hard to get back to where you were. You disappear from the consumer's mind. You lose ability to influence your brand image. One of your competitors instead keeps advertising and gains market share as you start losing traction, sometimes to the point it can never again be recouped.

Keynesian economics works with businesses too. Those who advertise will remain in a much better situation after the recession is over than those who do not.

Its not just advertising, but research too. Research is at the heart of a company's ability to innovate. As with advertising, too many companies talk themselves into thinking that research is something it cannot afford. Yet part of the reason we are in the economic situation we are in is because the market dramatically evolved, while the policies that governed business remained as they have for half a century.

So in reality, a marketer shouldn't be asking themselves if they can afford to advertise or invest in research. The real question should be, "How can I afford not to?"

Leia Mais…
Dec 19, 2008

Are Santa's reindeer female?

If you ask Alice Blue-McLendon, a veterinary medicine professor at Texas A&M University, the answer to that question would be "yes." In fact, that they still have their antlers at Christmas time may mean that not only are they female, they may also be pregnant! According to the Reindeer Research Program (no, I am not making that up) Rangifer tarandus is the only deer species in which both the males and females grow antlers. Even calves grow antlers during their first year! Antlers, by definition, are shed and re-grown every year. Bulls lose their antlers during the winter, typically around Christmas time. Non-pregnant females will also lose their antlers during the winter. Pregnant females will not drop their antlers until they give birth in the spring.

Blue-McLendon furthers her point by asking would a boy reindeer really sport a shiny red nose that almost glows? She says females like accessories. "You know, shiny stuff."

A hyphenated name with a .edu email address arguing over the gender of fictitious reindeer...seriously?! Story from the AP

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Dec 16, 2008

Foreclosed on Facebook

If a lawyer ever tries to "poke" you on Facebook, beware! Australian lawyer Mark McCormack became the first person in the world to serve legal papers via FaceBook. After unsuccessfully trying all other avenues to foreclose on a couple’s home, he obtained permission from the courts to get the papers served via FaceBook. At least the judge was kind enough to force McCormack to send the papers via private mail and not post a message on the couple's wall for all the world to see.

The fact that legal documents would be exchanged via Facebook or other social networking sites is another step in their evolution as a viable media channel. Now we'll just have to see how long it takes before someone develops an application that screens for bill collectors.

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Dec 15, 2008

Should I stay or should I go?

I got an email from a student at the University of Utah this morning worried about the job outlooks for graduates and asking for advice about the current economy. He asked for my thoughts on whether or not he should try to enter the marketing industry or stick around in college to finish a double major.

His concern is a legitimate one. There isn’t any industry that is immune from the economy right now. Even sectors that have traditionally been unaffected by previous downturns, such as health care, are being hit in unexpected ways. The outlook consumes the thoughts of both college graduates and professionals with 30+ years of experience alike. But this recession is likely to continue for some time. Waiting for the storm to blow over probably isn't a viable strategy because 12 months from now, we'll probably still be in the middle of it.

The world will pay you what it feels you are worth, and education can go a long ways in elevating your worth to future employers. But really the best advice I could give him was to find find what he was truly most passionate about and go after it full force. Don’t hold back. Don’t accept “no.” As one marketing guru once said, "Be remarkable." Yes, many companies are trimming back their workforce and areas of “inefficiency,” but they are starving for direction, leadership, creativity, and innovation. And those attributes aren’t limited to just marketing professionals.

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Christmas Tag

A friend of mine recently had a blog entry that tagged readers, then encouraging them to do the same by answering some questions about Christmas on their own blogs. I thought it was a cool idea, and we'll see how far it can spread. TAG, you're it!

Wrapping paper or gift bags
Wrapping paper, and preferably something unique. My brother once wrapped all his presents for the family one year entirely in duct tape.

Real tree or artificial
I prefer the real tree, but right now we have the fake one. I love the smell of the real tree, especially when you suck up the needles with the vacuum. But the last thing we need is our 10-month old crawling into the family room and eating sap, bark, and pine needles for breakfast.

When do you put up the tree?
The Saturday after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, my wife normally breaks down and plays Christmas music well before then.

When do you take the tree down?
The Saturday after New Years. But the Christmas spirit lives on since I normally don't get a chance to climb onto my steep, snow-covered roof and remove the Christmas lights until May.

Do you like eggnog?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Favorite gift received as a child?
A Seattle Seahawks football helmet. But it was too small for my big head so we had to take it back the next day. I never got another one, and it remains the elusive gift I never really had. Maybe that's why I like it, the same mentality that you always want what you can't have.

Hardest person to buy for?

Easiest person to buy for?

Do you have a nativity scene?
Yes. And the ears and legs of the sheep and donkeys are slowly starting to disappear. I think my three-year-old might have something to do with it.

Mail or e-mail Christmas cards?
Go digital. Make your own card and blast it out to your friends and family. Cards actually tend to live longer online than they do in print.

Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
I got a pack of pens from a coworker. I mean, how many minutes raiding the supplies closet did it take for him to pull that one off? He was later fired for stealing supplies from the company. Seriously.

Favorite Christmas Movie?
National Lampoons, Christmas Vacation

When do you start shopping for Christmas?
The question should instead be "When do I have my wife go out and do all the shopping for me?"

Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
I had a roommate in college who was a Navajo indian, and he taught me the perfected art of Indian giving.

Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Cinnamon-roasted almonds with hot cocoa

Favorite Christmas tradition?
How quickly the reenactment of the nativity in our home turns into a comedic performance

Favorite Christmas song?
Still, Still, Still (the German version)

Travel at Christmas or stay at home?
Stay home

Can you name all of Santa's reindeer's?
I have to sing the song in my head first, but yes. I can.

Angel on the tree top or a star?

Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
I held strong for five years, but this year my wife talked me into letting the kids open one present on Christmas Eve.

Most annoying thing about this time of the year?
The icicle lights for the outside of my house work when I take them down. Then when I put them back up the following year, none of them work. Are there lightbulb-eating Gremlins in my basement. Someone really should look into this.

Favorite for Christmas dinner?
It's Christmas Eve dinner that I really look forward to. My Oma's birthday is Christmas Eve, so the family would all gather at their house and have her favorite meal on her birthday: Chinese food. I went to great lengths to keep the tradition alive when I lived in Germany for two years.

What do you want for Christmas this year?
A day in the mountains with my snowboard. I mean really, isn't that what this time of year is really all about? Doing something you truly love and leaving your wife behind to take care of kids while you go hit some rails and kickers at Brighton?

How many days left until Christmas?

Leia Mais…
Dec 12, 2008

Making lemonade

According to a recent Gallup poll, two-thirds of Americans don’t see the economy turning around anytime soon. In fact, most think any sort of a turnaround is still two years away. 29% say it will be two years until the economy starts to recover, 20% say three to four years, and 17% say five or more years. Just 15% think it will be within a year. As consumer confidence drops to historic lows and sales plummet, marketers are cutting back their ad budgets. Big time.

TNS Media Intelligence also released data the other day that showed that despite the billions in ad dollars that flowed into the market thanks to the XXIX Olympiad and a fiercely-contested (and protracted) presidential election season, total media still managed to decline 2% in the third quarter of 2008. In the first nine months of the year, total measured media spend declined 3.7%.

Studies by American Business Media examined the relationship between advertising and sales in 143 companies during the severe 1974/1975 downturn. They found that companies that did not cut advertising either year had the highest growth in sales and net income during the two study years and the following two. Companies that cut advertising had the lowest sales and net income increases during that same period. A subsequent study by The Wall Street Journal and another by the University of Utah confirm that companies that advertise during a recession gain market share by taking it away from competitors unable to adjust to shifting market conditions, and tend to maintain a stronger cash stream throughout the downturn, in contrast to other companies that may have liquidity problems. Amazingly, B2B companies that continue to advertise have three times the sales growth as those that cut back on advertising during a recession.

Some companies pull their ad budgets in an effort to cut back or maintain capital during lean times. At the extreme end, the Arena Football League is canceling next season in an effort to conserve capital, yet promises to come back in 2010. I don't fully understand how by closing operations and not generating any revenue will help you be better off one year from now. Same with marketing.

The fact is that consumers still need to consume. We no longer live in a world where a family can sustain itself for a few years by living off the goods they themselves produce (think farms and mom and pop businesses of 50-60 years ago). They cannot produce their own goods, they need to buy them. And a brand that disappears during a recession runs the very high risk of disappearing from the minds of consumers forever.

Leia Mais…
Dec 11, 2008

What I learned from my 3-year-old this week

My three-year-old son taught me an important lesson the other evening. We were in the family room of our basement, which we have turned into a large play room, trying to read scriptures as a family before putting the kids into bed. All I wanted was for my son to sit down for three minutes and listen quietly. It wasn't happening. He kept running from one end of the room to another, playing with his cars for ten seconds, then throwing a football into his basketball hoop, then going back across the room and hiding inside his tent. My wife could tell I was getting a little upset, and she reminded me that he is only three years old, and encouraged me to keep reading.

So I did. And he kept ignoring me and exhibiting signs of severe ADD. Or so I thought. I read one verse, and in the middle of smashing one of his cars into another, he asked me to explain to him what one of the words I had just read meant. I stopped. I couldn't believe it. While I thought he wasn't listening, he had actually been paying attention all along.

I know I'm probably not the first parent to have observed this with their children. But it reminded me of what often happens in marketing. The late advertising executive Phil Dusenberry once said, "I think clients and ad agencies get tired of their advertising a lot faster than the consumer does." In today's world when it seems like consumers are running back and forth, with so many other toys and distractions all competing for their attention, it is easy to think that nobody is listening. So they think they need to change something. But maybe their consumers are listening. And perhaps patience and consistency with your message is the best strategy of all.

Thanks, Dylan!

Leia Mais…
Dec 10, 2008

iPhone sells its soul

For months my wife has been counting down until construction on a new WalMart in our town is completed. Not because we are so enthusiastic about the store, I can barely stand going there. But because it means that we no longer will have to drive 30 minutes to go grocery shopping. Yes we live in the middle of nowhere.

But now I have a new reason to be excited about WalMart. According to Bloomberg, WalMart will start selling a $99 4-gigabyte iPhone later this month!

First of all, I love Apple's timing on this. Wait until after Christmas, so that everyone who wanted to buy one as a gift for Christmas will have to go to the Apple Store for the $199 or $299 version. But some brand analysts are wondering what sort of damage offering the iPhone at a discount retailer will do to Apple's overall brand image. After all, if you're a brand with high aspirational appeal such as Apple, do you want your product showcased an aisle away from laundry detergent and 10-packs of boxer shorts? Not to mention it would sit on a shelf next to Google's Android phone, also sold at WalMart.

Apple has built a premium brand that would be difficult to be commoditized by a low price point. Apple also released low-price iPods that have managed to retain their hip quotient despite mass penetration. And going mainstream is exactly what Apple intends to do by placing the iPhone on WalMart's shelves. It also plans to sell the phone at Best Buy.

But is it worth the risk? Why is Apple doing this? I have a couple theories. What drove the popularity of iPods was the iTunes store. The same thing is beginning to happen with the iPhone's app store. But in order for more developers to jump on board and be willing to program new applications, the iPhone universe has to grow. Broader iPhone adoption will be driven by Apple's ability to build a more complete product line with low-end, mid-range and high-end products. But Apple is also likely looking to amp up its distribution while banking on the halo effect of other Apple products. Studies have shown that when people start to use Mac products, they want to connect those devices with a Macintosh computer rather than a Windows-based PC.

I never thought I'd say this, but I can't wait to go to WalMart.

Leia Mais…

Religious branding

Yesterday I used sports to make a point about marketing and business. Today I'm turning to religion to help draw some conclusions about how branding works. I was reading a book a few months ago that discussed this idea,and I've been thinking about it regularly ever since. Seth Godin even refers to Mormon missionaries in his Tribes presentation. Initially I thought that though there are some obvious differences between true religions and brands, the parallels would be limited to a degree. But the more I have thought about it, I've come to the conclusion that while someone's personal level of commitment and investment in a religion may be stronger in some cases than they would be to a particular brand, the underlying principles remain the same. Here are some of the things that brand marketers could learn from religion.

This is where it has to start. What do you stand for? And why should I care? Think about the world’s major religions, and they all have something slightly unique that they stand for and incorporate as doctrine. Brands are no different. Pepsi stands for youth and fun. Apple stands for creativity, innovation, and self-expression. This isn’t just a tagline, but something much deeper, a foundational principle that is reinforced in everything the brand does.

A radio talk show host I listened to this morning is really what motivated me to make this post. Conflict sells. And conflict comes naturally when you have a clearly defined opponent. Better yet, a rival. Red Sox and Yankees hate each other. Glasgow Rangers and Celtic hate each other. Pepsi and Coke hate each other. Apple and Microsoft hate each other. A rivalry forces a brand to continually challenge their opponent, and drives a constant need to be vocal about your position and defines your direction. It gives the community a reason to rally together, and infuses energy and enthusiasm into their support and commitment of a brand.

One of the fundamental layers in Maslow’s hierarchy is a need to surround ourselves with others who care for us and share common interests and beliefs. We seek meaning and definition in relationships. Brands that make it easy for their consumers to organize and unite, to communicate and support one another have the potential to go far. The brand is looked to to provide leadership and context. The consumers and individual community members then carry that message to others, growing and strengthening the community in the process.

Symbolism is an important part of religion. Symbols are also vital for brands. As the market becomes more crowded, simple yet powerful symbols are forming an instant, global language. Be it a stained-glass window, a cross, or the Nike Swoosh, consistent use of imagery helps individuals recognize a brand, and makes it easy to spread the brand’s message.

Rituals build brands. If you remove certain rituals from a small group of powerful brands, you’ll soon notice their power disappearing. . The act of placing a wedge of lime in the neck of a Corona bottle helps sell those beers. And where did it come from? As one story goes, it was invented by two bartenders in California to see how fast a ritual could spread. How would the Olympic games fare without the flaming torch relay? Not many brands leverage the power of ritual, yet so much of religion’s power is based on this very aspect.

Critical to the success of a brand is the experience it delivers for consumers. Fail to live up to what you have promised, and consumers will quickly go elsewhere. The stained glass windows, candles, statues, and organ music all provide a sensory experience that reinforces what religious believers hope to obtain. Disneyland quickly draws you in to another world. So too does the Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York, the latest Prada store in Tokyo or Burj Al Arab, the world's first seven-star hotel. What experience do you have at a local supermarket? Exactly.

Religions are built on oral traditions, music, and the written word. Brands too have stories to tell, and so do their consumers. Using stories as metaphors to convey a brand’s overarching message makes it easy for a consumer to inject themselves into a situation and better understand the brand’s relevancy in their own lives. And most often this is done at a subconscious level. They don’t even realize when they’re doing it.

Evangelism is what so many marketers are looking to build today. What religions do door to door, companies are replicating via YouTube videos, Facebook apps, corporate blogs and Twitter. They hope this engagement makes it easier for their brand loyalists to spread word-of-mouth, making use of the inclination of consumers to be persuaded by friends.

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Dec 9, 2008

The Hedgehog and Sports

As much as I love sports, drawing marketing and/or business analogies from them doesn't always work for me. But something happened over the weekend that I found quite interesting. My favorite college football team, the University of Washington, finished 0-12, the worst season in the school's history. They fired their coach after four seasons. The players looked disorganized, confused, and surprisingly apathetic during games this season. So they went outside the organization to find a new head coach to breathe life, and hopefully success, back into the program.

On the flip side, the University of Utah finished a regular season record of 12-0 and earning a BCS bowl berth. They had an incredibly successful season. But their head defensive coach was hired to become the coach at another school. Utah made a decision to promote from within, without even looking outside at any candidates. They didn't want to tinker with their system by bringing in someone from outside.

The two schools made two completely different philosophical decisions. True, one school was down and the other on top, but there is a principle in this that each business must ask themselves at some point. In his book "Good to Great", author Jim Collins presents his study of how to take a good organization and turn it into one that produces sustained, great results. Collins explains that the ultimate state of organization’s “greatness” is one in which all challenges and dilemmas are reduced to a simplistic idea called the "hedgehog concept" where strategies are founded on 3 circles: a deep understanding of 1) the organization’s passions 2) their capacity to succeed at one single goal to be the best in the world at something, and 3) what powers their economic drive.

He describes how time and time again, once a company enjoys success they no longer strive for innovation, but protect and insulate themselves from change. Collins says "If you donʼt look at things from a realistic point of view and admit that things are not as good as they can be, they wonʼt get better." Companies who fail to keep the passion in innovation and becoming the best in the world at something will ultimately become stale, eventually finding themselves looking up at a new market leader or an evolving marketplace in which they are unprepared to compete.

Did the UW or U of U make right or wrong choices for their coaches? Who knows, time will answer that one. But if Utah has indeed reached the point where they protect what they have obtained instead of continuing to grow and develop, it will be interesting to see if they eventually only fight to maintain mediocrity.

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Dec 5, 2008

Pepsi commits suicide

PepsiMax decided to launch a print campaign recently designed to tout the drink's "one lonely calorie." So BBDO's office in Düsseldorf, Germany decided to visualize just how lonely that one calorie would be by showing a cute but sad little personification of a calorie committing suicide in a few ultraviolent ways, including a gunshot, a hanging, self-immolation and even slitting his little blue wrist with a razor blade while strapped to a rocket.

I can just hear the creative brainstorm sessions now.

STRATEGIST: "We need to promote the idea that the drink only has one calorie."
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: "One calorie, eh? I'll bet it gets lonely in that big blue can, all by itself."
STRATEGIST: "Yes, one is the loneliest number."
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: "If I were that lonely I'd kill myself. Hmm, I know...maybe that little calorie would like to do the same!"
STRATEGIST: "Ja wohl!"

I've lived in Germany, and know that Europeans have a much different sense of humor than we do as Americans. German even has a word for taking pleasure in others' misfortunes called "Schadenfreude." But, Pepsi is a global brand, and what happens in Dusseldorf doesn't stay in Dusseldorf. The play at dark humor will do more harm to Pepsi's core brand image that whatever gains it would possibly make with any targeted segment. Perhaps Pepsi is the one committing suicide here, not the cartoon calorie. There is simply too much risk for misunderstanding and backlash, not to mention a few sleepless nights in Pepsi's legal department.

Needless to say, message boards today have been popping with much anti-Pepsi sentiment, most of it centered on the claim that these kinds of ads are insensitive to the issue of suicide, the 3rd leading cause of death among young adults whom the drink is targeted at. But here I am, talking about PepsiMax on my blog. Maybe that's really what they wanted all along.

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Dec 4, 2008

App-vertising in a world of widgets

There are now over 500 million social-network users, each generating 1,200 page views per month and representing roughly 600 billion monthly opportunities for an ad impression. Three in four US online adults now use social tools to connect with each other, up from 56% just one year ago. I spoke with a co-worker yesterday who mentioned he didn't consider himself an expert in social marketing. My reply was that we better become one, quickly. Marketers have to get on board with social now, and those who wait to join in will find it increasingly hard to catch up.

One route for marketers into the social networking market is through the use of widgets, small applications that can be embedded in web or mobile content, adding to the user’s experience without, more often than not, being overly and blatantly commercial. Widgets and applications first became popular with MySpace members who use them to embelish their profile pages. Then Facebook began to allow developers to create widgets for their members. Other sites, such as PhotoBucket, provide HTML codes that can easily be embedded in blogs and social sites.

Marketers have since turned these into opportunities to provide contextual interaction with consumers. Southwest Airlines' "Ding" widget was downloaded over 2 million times in its first year, generating 10 million clicks in the third quarter of 2008 alone. The App Store for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch devices that launched in July today has over 10,000 applications. In fact, the current tally of the most popular Apple iPhone applications shows that consumers are willing to pay nominally for games and entertainment and that there are broad opportunities for advertisers.

Widgets and applications have replaced key fobs and branded coffee mugs as new-age digital swag. They provide an opportunity for marketers to reach consumers in an unobtrusive, even helpful way that turns passive, low-level conscious awareness of a brand into active engagement and advocacy. Relatively inexpensive to develop and distribute, free to the user, and easy to share with friends and contacts, they provide a direct link between consumer and brand and carry an advertising message with them wherever they go. Yet, marketers will spend a relatively paltry $100 million on these applications this year, roughly equating the total media buys during the upcoming Super Bowl.

Some applications certainly have inherent limitations. Development meetings will argue over entertainment and utility much in the same way creative directors do over traditional advertising concepts, searching for ways to briefly get users attention and then start over when that attention fades. People have long hated marketing for being intrusive, obnoxiously misleading, and irrelevant. Yet intelligently designed applications combine utility with the brand's stated purpose. Instead of trying to lure customers into your store, take your store to your customer wherever they may be.

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Dec 1, 2008

Is groupthink deadly?

Black Friday took on a new meaning when it was reported that a Wal-Mart employee had been trampled to death by a stampede of some 2000 shoppers who had gathered outside the store to begin their holiday shopping. This morning, CNN aired a video asking "was 'groupthink' responsible for his death?"

Groupthink has long been thought to be a major reason why some businesses and organizations fail. The concept leads to poor decision making and results in a lack of creativity by creating an environment in which individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness. Group members settle into a comfort zone, and resist promoting or even mentioning differing viewpoints or ideas that could make them look foolish, or possibly embarrass or anger other members of the group. Innovation is stifled. Hasty decisions are made without thorough consideration or evaluation. Group members become sheep.

Groupthink can kill a business. It's sad to see that it may have also reared its head in public and led to a man's death as well.

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Nov 26, 2008

Marketing in a recession

The best strategy for ad agencies in the recession is to anticipate and support their clients' likely desire to shift from brand-building to hard-sell advertising for the duration of the downturn. That's according to Nick Brien, speaking at Ad Age's Media Mavens Awards event. Brien is the CEO of Interpublic Group of Companies' Mediabrands, a unit designed to coordinate the holding company's media assets. Brien was formerly CEO of Univeral McCann, where he won wide recognition as a savvy corporate turnaround artist.

No doubt the economy will have an impact on just how consumers consume. According to RGE Monitor, the U.S. housing sector is still far from stabilizing. Housing starts keep plunging, and demand keeps following supply downward, resulting in inventories not getting worked off and remaining at record highs and placing even more downward pressure on home prices. The most recent Case-Shiller Index showed home prices are down 23% from the peak and the pace of decline keeps accelerating every month. The consensus is now that home prices have still a long way to go before reaching a bottom.

the housing market is central to Americans’ perception of wealth. But the wealth losses for households related to the decline in home values has already reached $3 trillion, and some estimates it will eventually reach the $6-8 trillion range. The loss represents a negative wealth effect of 6 cents on the dollar, and the reduction in personal consumption could amount to a whopping $500bn. Factor in the losses related to the decline in stock market prices, down 40% from its record-high on October 9th of last year, the lack of flowing credit, and the impending dark cloud of staggering unemployment and its easy to see why retailers expect holiday sales to plunge by almost 50% this year and extending the slump well into 2009.

Back in May, I wrote a short piece for some of our agency's clients that mentioned we’ve reached an “inflection point” where the credit-fueled, Boomer-led, 40-year American consumption binge is unsustainable. We live in a different world today than in 2007, and it’s permanent. Americans have no choice but to save, and we’re already beginning to see signs that they’re doing just that. In fact, the national savings rate has been ticking upward since midsummer 2007, coincident with the subprime meltdown.

This as a significant point of change as we undergo a generational shift in this country. Gen Xers, entering their prime earnings years, show little evidence of wishing to follow in the excessive paths of their Boomer elders. Rather, they seek balance, downsizing, for example, from Boomer McMansions. At the same time, Millennials are entering adult life saddled with an average of $20,000 of student loan debt, and are fired up to get out from under that burden.

A new era is upon us where consumer values of balance, thrift, savvy, responsibility, self-reliance and control are ascendant. We are entering an age when established, tried-and-true life strategies and maxims will make a roaring comeback: “Waste not, want not”; “A penny saved is a penny earned”; “Save for a rainy day”… It’s no coincidence that the last generation to practice such a sensible approach, those seniors who entered adulthood during the Great Depression, are generally in excellent financial condition.

Even in a downturned economy in which consumers will put a greater emphasis on saving, consumers will continue to spend. Clearly, there will always be a need for essentials like food, housing, or energy. But sanity is also an essential. Despite a recognized drop in “small indulgences” in the short term, consumer spending will happen in areas such as health-and-beauty products and services, televisions, or vacations. Yet when consumers do spend, they will want to save. Helping consumers easily identify the strength of a product or service's value proposition will rise to the top in almost every possible transaction, as the Dollars and Sense economy shapes a new generation of marketing and consumption.

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Nov 24, 2008


In an industry that seems it can focus on little else but the changing media landscape, rarely have there been as many conflicting op-eds and articles on the subject as was the case this weekend. No one will argue that media habits of consumers are changing. But few can agree on just how they are changing, or what that holds for the future of the advertising industry.

The print industry has certainly been hit hard by evolving media consumption in recent years. The local Salt Lake newspapers were forced to overhaul not only their sales and editorial workforces, but also their content over the past year in response to declining revenues. Major magazines such as PC Magazine have moved to all-digital editions, while others have shuttered their operations entirely. Even the storied New York Times announced over the weekend it plans to slash its quarterly dividend by 74 percent amid a worsening advertising slump, further proof of the paper's declining influence.

As the Times scrambled to remain viable, the building that once served as its headquarters became home to the largest sign assembly in the history of Times Square. A digital display wraps all three sides of One Times Square, becoming the central landmark in America's most heavily trafficked outdoor advertising venue. The sign also guarantees its advertiser, Walgreen's, heavy exposure to more than 1 billion TV viewers as the backdrop to the New Year's Eve ball drop.

Digital marketing took a further step in its evolution over the weekend, as Dr. Pepper launched a consumer promotion that is being billed as one of the largest not only in video gaming but in the history professional sports. Dr Pepper will sponsor for the second year in a row Major League Gamer (MLG) websites by featuring an MLG gaming star player on more than 175 million 20-ounce bottles of the regular and Diet Dr Pepper, sponsoring the MLG's no. 1-ranked team "Str8 Rippin," sweepstakes codes inside bottle caps, a promotional site with bonus content, and in-store promotions.

Many consider emerging media as the future of the industry for its ability to better inform consumers and reach them on "their terms," a phrase used to the point of overkill in internal status and agency brainstorm meetings. Online video-game ads, blogs and text messages are gaining influence overall with consumers, especially the younger 18-34 demographic that makes so many marketers salivate. Recent statistics show that online video-game ads influenced 14% of electronics purchases among that group, while blogs influenced 11%, figures that outrank outdoor billboards and satellite radio. Text messaging is also gaining traction, influencing 9% of the demographics' electronics purchases and 6% of clothing purchases.

Then again, an IDC study released this morning concludes social network users are less receptive to advertising, and that the methods marketers have used to advertise through the medium are "stillborn" with lower than average ad effectiveness. Of all U.S. Internet users, only 3% are willing to allow publishers to use contact information for advertising. So much more effective than behavioral targeting can social advertising really be?

Confused yet? Well, the discombobulation was only furthered by two separate stories in AdWeek the past week. In one, the strength of online advertising to weather the deepening ad recession was touted in light of a recent IAB analysis that showed online ad spending approached $5.9 billion during the third quarter, the second-best quarter ever for the industry and an increase of 11 percent over the same frame in 2007 and up 2 percent versus Q2 of this year. But AdAge looked at the same statistics and highlighted how while spending in the sector up, it was slowing and flattening out. Four days later, the lead story on AdWeek now asks "Is the End Near for Display Ads?"

In today's discombobulated and frenetic media landscape, marketers scramble to find the best ways to reach consumers. Yet in an era when new media are prized, or at least often touted, Reckitt Benckiser, the most successful major package-goods company of the past five years in sales and profit, has outperformed the likes of L'Oreal, Unilever, and P&G with what AdAge calls a "contrarian strategy." So what was the media mix of this contrarian strategy? Reckitt decided to stick with the basics, spending nearly 90% of its media dollars on TV last year. While its internet advertising through the first half was already double its full-year internet spending in 2007, it was still only 1% of media spending.

Alexander Lacik, Reckitt's North American household-marketing chief, said the company will move quickly on digital marketing once it's been "qualified," and he couldn't even immediately recall the name of the company's digital agency. Ouch.

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Nov 20, 2008

Don't count on a bailout

Executives from Detroit's "Big Three" automakers went to Capitol Hill yesterday to plead for $25 billion in emergency bailout money. First of all, I am fundamentally opposed to giving anything to anyone who files to Washington in their individual leer jet and begs for taxpayer money while their Gulfstreams idle on the tarmac.

Second, nobody has the right to uninterrupted growth and existence. Industries and businesses have to go through evolutions. Being good is the enemy of being great. All too often it breeds mediocrity and comfort doing the things the way they've always been done. But there is no such thing as entitlement or a birthright in business or marketing. There is no guarantee that you will be viable tomorrow, just because outdated ideas, strategies, tactics were successful before.

30 years ago, IBM was the leader in the growing field of personal computers. Then came around some company called Apple. Then Microsoft. By 1992, IBM was staring disaster in the face and posted what was at the time the largest single-year corporate loss in US history. So IBM innovated and reinvented themselves, moving away from components and hardware towards software and consulting services.

What has happened to Detroit should be a wake-up call to marketers everywhere. The current economic slowdown will separate the strong from the weak, the creative from the dull. Don't count on a bailout to make up for your inability to innovate and adapt.

Read Mitt Romney's and Seth Godin's comments about what should happen in Detroit.

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Yes, Scion is an outlier too

Yesterday's post included an image meant to depict why some automakers have been able to better weather the severe downturn in the auto industry, while others are forced to go to DC to beg for money to survive. The image featured the logos of three brands who have successfully positioned themselves as outliers: BMW, VW, and Mini. I forgot to include perhaps the most successful outlier in the industry's recent history, the Scion.

Here is a clip from AdAge providing perhaps the best summary of Scion's tale, delivered by Jeffrey Rayport at the recent CTAM conference. Rayport encouraged automakers to rethink their relationships with consumers and empower them more, citing the way Scion's 2003 launch managers rethought every aspect of customer engagement.

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Nov 19, 2008

Why outliers matter

Researchers and statisticians are always leery of statistical outliers, often removing them entirely from consideration when analyzing data. But while outliers may skew data results in statistical charts, outliers are where real change occurs in business and the real world.

The biggest movements and trends normally go mainstream but they rarely start there. Barack Obama was regarded as the most liberal Senator in D.C., began a movement that many considered as fringe, extreme, or radical, then grew it into mainstream politics. In business, change never occurs by doing the things that have always been done, or simply duplicating the strategies of others. Change, by definition, must be different, which means it always starts as an outlier.

Yesterday I forwarded to a colleague a website from a national hotel chain, which is taking a very unique, some may call it risky and extreme, approach in its positioning. My colleague dismissed it as "too far out there" to really be taken seriously. But as a marketer, one should always be paying attention to outliers. Some outlying cultural trends may at first glance seem radical, but always dismissing them will eventually only leave you trying to jump on a bandwagon you yourself may have been driving.

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Nov 18, 2008

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Story from the New York Times

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Can Google help you avoid the flu?

For those who are so afraid of needles that they avoid getting an annual flu shot, there may be a new tool to help you avoid getting sick.

Each week, millions of users around the world use Google and other search engines for online health information. As expected, there are more flu-related searches during flu season. But what Google has found is that there is a very close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms.

Counting the numbers of search queries is used to estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States. Compared against data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Google found using search data could accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

Check it out here.

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Don't get off that couch!

In the age of new media and TiVo, much has been discussed about the impending death of television advertising as we know it. Media companies have desperately searched for ways to more accurately measure viewership, and companies have struggled to realize the advertising power the medium once provided.

So while others sit back and complain about difficult market conditions and evolving media habits, some companies lead through innovative and creative thinking. Domino's Pizza announced a deal with TiVo yesterday that allows subscribers to place an order directly from their TV's connected TiVo box. The move broadens TiVo's content delivery system, which also allows subscribers to make purchases from Amazon.com or order movie tickets from Fandango.com.

This is just one example of how marketers are find new solutions to adapt to changing consumer needs and behaviors, made possible through the same digital technology that has eroded their advertising power in other media in recent years. Marketers can never settle into a comfort zone of simply duplicating last year's marketing plan. The business landscape is continually evolving, and marketers must learn to adapt or become irrelevant.

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Nov 17, 2008

The Church of Apple

Apple is fascinating on so many levels. For marketers, few companies have mastered the art of branding as well as Apple. Apple has successfully captured the ever evolving aura of "cool" and attracted an extremely passionate and loyal base of customers from far and wide, part of the reason why Apple was named the "most successful world brand" and America's most admired company earlier this year.

A friend and devoted Apple fan told me yesterday of a conversation he had with a developer from Apple at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference. The developer told him that Apple makes it a point to not simply develop products based on what consumers want (chasing the puck), but build according to what consumers will want in the future (skating to the puck).

The philosophy results in truly innovative products that are first to market (controlling the puck), enhanced by design and packaging aesthetics, retail experiences, and opportunities for brand advocates to engage with the brand like WWDC and store openings that further advance Apple's religious following.

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Motrin has a headache

Over the weekend, Motrin made an attempt to go viral be placing the above ad on YouTube, aimed at moms at moms who carry their children in slings or backpacks. Almost immediately, moms everywhere took offense at the ad's condescending tone, which seems to imply that carrying your baby close has little effect and that moms that do so are really using their babies as fashion accessories.

Sure enough the ad managed to generate plenty of buzz, just not the kind Motrin's brand managers had hoped for. No sooner had the online legion of mommy bloggers seen the spot, they began to post angry comments on their own blogs, posting irate video responses to the ad on YouTube, even rejecting the ad en masse on Twitter. First rule in social media, beware the power of mommy bloggers.

Here are some screenshots to show just how much online activity the ad has caused, certainly now well beyond its intended audience. I mean, here I am a 28 year old male blogging about a Motrin ad targeted at moms!

It's shocking that Motrin's brand managers apparently failed to test the spot prior to its release, such strong emotions certainly would have been noticeable had they done so. But what made the situation even worse was Motrin's the slow response, indicating nobody was even monitoring the conversations people were having about their brand.

The ultimate demise of the campaign demonstrates either how quickly social media can galvanize a groundswell of opinion or how much power over online discourse they can give a few vocal tastemakers with outsize weight, and remind marketers of the dangers of trying to talk TO consumers through social media when its true power is in having a conversation WITH consumers.

That conversation shouldn't start only after you launch a microsite or release a viral ad, but should only be a continuation of an ever growing and evolving dialogue between brand and consumer. Consumers will always talk about your brand, and the trick for today's brand managers is to become an active part of and lead the conversation.

Great posts here from Seth Godin and David Armano about how Motrin failed a second time in its efforts to apologize. AdAge also released an excellent analysis of the campaign's demise.

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Nov 14, 2008

Skating to the puck

In an interview with Brandweek, Sprint's SVP of Corporate Marketing Bill Morgan shared an interesting quote. When asked if Sprint's $99 Simply Everything plan, a flat fee for unlimited voice, text, and data, would lead to commoditization in the industry, Morgan responded, "It's kind of the old Wayne Gretzky thing, you're skating to where the puck's going not to where it's at."

The hockey analogy (or any sport for that matter) is fantastic. Is your company skating around the rink chasing a puck, or are you skating to where it's headed? Better yet, are you the one controlling where the puck will go?

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Nov 13, 2008

Break down the walls

Kaizen is a Japanese concept of improving productivity. It literally means “change” and “better," or changes of current methods to produce a better result. Toyota figured this out, and based their entire production system around it.

As humans, our natural tendency is to resist change. It brings risk. Instead, we like to maintain the status quo, keep things the way they are and too often settle into the comforts of our own mediocrity. In business, we build artificial walls to block cross-functional cooperation and resist the development of new strategies.

The Harvard Business Review published an article highlighting the efforts of some companies to develop collaborative Distributed Innovation Groups that take part in brainstorming and problem-solving sessions, identify customer needs that could lead to new offerings or business models, consider how to use existing technologies in new ways, scan the environment for emerging technologies and their applications, advise business units, and publicize promising innovations and ideas.

Change most often fails to occur not because there are systems in place to prevent it, but that there aren't any systems in place to begin with. Its a lack of organization and coordination. Find a leader. Be that leader. Unite individuals throughout an organization to seek out and implement the change the market is calling for. If you're not growing, you're dying.s

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Nov 12, 2008

The Law of Brand Positioning

I'm not a NASCAR expert, but my son has become a fan ever since he first watched "Cars." As I watched the highlights of a recent race with him, I was intrigued by how the drivers remained in a tight pack for such a long stretch. Certainly there had to be some strategy, but I thought it was an awful lot like how so many businesses market themselves and their products.

All too often, we get placed into our position in the "competitive pack." Just as with the race, one company might move up a few slots, another might slide down, but for the most part, very little changes unless someone crashes or really screws up. Everyone seems to settle into their place and stays there. One driver eventually had enough, and came from the middle of the pack and raced to the front in a little less than one full lap. He was aggressive. He set the tone. He led, while others reacted.

Consider the election. Over the course of two months, John McCain's marketing messages were:

  • Country first
  • Maverick
  • Don't listen to those ridiculous, un-American, liberal, intellectual, coastal elites
  • Barack Obama is a superficial celebrity
  • I'm experienced
  • Change
  • Obama is a dangerous unknown quantity
  • Obama is a socialist.
Obama never stopped talking about the economy, health care and education over and over no matter what Hannity or Limbaugh had to say about him on the radio. He set the tone, and was relentless in his consistency. McCain was reactive.

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Nov 11, 2008

Creating the experience

A recent study showed that promotional "swag" is more effective than traditional advertising. Before you get too carried away with the findings, realize the study was commissioned by the Advertising Specialty Institute. That means the results are about as neutral as an internal tax audit at Enron.

If you have ever visited a trade show of any kind, you've noticed the number of people who go from booth to booth trying to collect as much swag as they can. But how many of them actually call the companies that gave them free stuff, hoping to do business with them? I doubt its very many. The effectiveness of promotional materials in and of themselves is limited. Swag can, however, help consumers remember the power of the (hopefully) positive memory of an experience they have had with your brand.

Perhaps the most essential part of developing a strong brand is creating the appropriate customer experience. All the advertising in the world will have little impact on someone who has had a poor experience with your brand. A brand's true power lives in the perception of the consumer, and nothing is as powerful on our own opinions about things in life as the personal experiences we have with them.

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Nov 10, 2008

A very brief history of micro-media

Another great visualization from David Armano showing the evolution of micro-media.

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Nov 7, 2008

Government 2.0

Not long after I blogged about how Obama could continue to use social media in his presidency, he has already started to do so. The Presidenct-Elect has set up a new website called change.gov, complete with a blog, multimedia, Obama's stance on issues and his political agenda, pages calling for Americans to "Share Your Story" and "Share Your Vision," and another page calling on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges.

The bar on the right states: "The story of this campaign is your story. It is about the great things we can do when we come together around a common purpose. We want to hear your inspiring stories from the campaign and Election Day."

UPDATE 11.10.08:
CBS News Science and Technology Correspondent Daniel Sieberg noted on The Early Show Friday that the online push went further than the candidates' personal Web sites, as both Mr. Obama and John McCain tapped into the newest forms of social interaction, from Facebook to MySpace, even text messages. Obama employed the Web to raise record amounts of money for a presidential campaign.

"A lot of elections have been won because of television appearances," Doug Jaeger, a Web designer for thehappycorp.com, told Sieberg. "How people are appearing on the Internet is becoming more and more important."

Mr. Obama must now shift from campaign mode to governing mode with his cyber-supporters, Sieberg points out.

"The Internet has changed the game dramatically," says Andrew Rasiej, founder of TechPresident.com. "It's as if, in 2004, the Internet was allowed into the conference room of politics; in 2006, it was allowed to sit at the table; but in 2008, it's sitting at the head of the table, holding the agenda."

Mr. Obama has said he'd like to appoint a chief technology officer, perhaps at the cabinet level, and he's made it clear he will embrace new technologies in office -- technologies such as Skype, a video tool Sieberg used to get this quote from John Tedesco, a Virginia Tech political communications professor: "(Mr.) Obama recognized that young voters are using social networking sites and social networking software, and he brought his campaign to the young voters online."

Ultimately, according to tech experts, the most important part of Mr. Obama's future strategy is to ensure his digital followers continue to feel empowered.

Says Rasiej, "We're going to see this online community become really the special interest of the Obama presidency. Not the lobbyists, not the people who've traditionally give money, but the people who actually know how to use these tools to make sure that their voices are heard."

Think of it, suggest Sieberg, as the 21st century equivalent of giving power to the people.

And, Sieberg says, there's a sense that people are going to become more deeply involved in local politics, from school boards to running for office themselves, as a result of this online empowerment.

UPDATE 11.24.08: Obama has appointed his Social Secretary, close friend and prominent Chicago businesswoman Desirée Rogers. A Washington Post article about her appointment points out "This appointment sends a strong message that the Obamas want to use the White House strategically, to maximize its use in a way that is consistent with their philosophy -- [to] open it to a broader range of people." The President-elect has also begun posting his weekly messages on YouTube, opting for the web iinstead of radio where Presidents have held their weekly addresses, starting with FDR's "fireside chats."

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The Social Election

BusinessWeek has called this the first social media election. The impact that social media had on the election is undeniable, and should once and for all convince marketers everywhere of its legitimacy and effectiveness as a marketing tool. Not only does the internet allow voters to learn more about the candidates than we ever would have before, but it enables voters to broadcast their unfiltered thoughts and opinions to the world. Gone are the days when a democrat in Utah or republican in Massachusetts would have little outcome on an election. Now they can communicate with and influence the opinions of others around the country, forcing candidates and major parties to develop a truly national strategies as opposed to almost exclusively focusing on key battleground states.

With the earliest Obama Girl videos, questions asked of candidates in town hall meetings submitted via YouTube (which didn't even exist in the 2004 election), the viral spread of Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin on SNL, mash ups of candidate videos and logos, blogs, Twitter feeds, virtual Obama or McCain buttons on Facebook, embedded video in emails, and avatars crowded into election-related islands and parties awaiting election results in SecondLife, the election and marketing landscape is forever changed.

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