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.
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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!
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
Dec 30, 2008
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."
Dec 29, 2008
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:
- 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.
- 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."
- 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
Dec 23, 2008
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.
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.
Dec 22, 2008
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?"
Dec 19, 2008
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
Dec 16, 2008
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.
Dec 15, 2008
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.
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?
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?
Dec 12, 2008
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.
Dec 11, 2008
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.
Dec 10, 2008
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.
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.
Dec 9, 2008
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.
Dec 5, 2008
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.
Dec 4, 2008
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.
Dec 1, 2008
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.