Friday, March 30, 2007

Pull Your Head Out of the Minutia

Here's an interesting article on advertising agencies "pilfering" from the toolbox of PR firms. Not surprisingly, it's written by a guy who works for the PR firms trade association. Because I can't imagine that any real marketer worth their salt would give a rip about what the tactics are called and what profession "owns" them.

PR is just a tactic. Advertising is just a tactic. What you do with your website is just a tactic.

The right firm will look at your business problem, your competitive position, your goals and your budget and then come up with the right set of tactics to solve your problem.

I can't think of an exercise less impactful than whining about who owns blogging.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

That Politician Stole My Ad Space!

It's starting. Have you seen the infamous Hillary 1984 spot, the mash-up of Apple's iconic commercial and the Obama/Hillary Democratic primary? Watch it here:

It's very clever, fun to watch. Yada yada. But it's really a precursor to something very serious to all of you who invest $$ in buying ad time. Depending on where you advertise, that space is about to get more expensive. With the primaries getting early, and the presidency on the line, the advertising dollars are going to flow.

That means less inventory for you. And higher prices. Decide early, if you can, and lock in your media plans as early as possible. Or you may just be watching another political campaign ad during the spot you wanted for your products.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Gas Pumps that Smell Like Coffee

The Convenience Store business is very competitive. Gas is low margin, so in store sales really help pay the rent. Now a clever entrepreneur wants to pump the smell of coffee into the forecourt (that's the industry term for the areas around the gas pump).

From a marketing standpoint, it's a great idea. Smell is a very powerful trigger of deep seeded emotional response. And coffee is an impulse buy that's high margin.

Business 2.0 also reports that Wal-mart will sell "smell-a-vision" kits with certain DVDs. Again, interesting.

But does no one else see the first asthmatic who chokes on these smells winning the lawsuit lottery?

You Offended the Mormons?

"I'm offended."

That used to be something you rarely heard. Now, it's a constant refrain. A coffee shop in Utah has offended the Mormon church with a t-shirt that shows an angel with coffee being poured down its turned.

The best ad in the Super Bowl in my opinion was Kevin Federline for Nationwide. Kevin ended up working at a burger joint in the life comes at you fast series. Classic stuff.

Of course, it offended the National Restaurant Association. Huh? Are you seriously offended by that? If so, you've lost touch with reality. More likely, the Restaurant folks just realized how much press they could get off this. The lesson for marketers: At this point, watch out who you offend, unless you don't mind the added press.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nothing to Sneeze At

Copying off the buzz that M&Ms candy got for their customized M&M site, the folks at Kleenex are now getting in on the action. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (say that 3 times fast), you can now order customized Kleenex boxes for your wedding, or with pictures of the grandkids, whatever you want (within reason).

This sort of personalization is great. At this point, it's unique enough to give a competitive advantage, and it builds brand loyalty.

Don't tell me that your industry is too boring for this kind of innovation. If they can do something breakthrough with tissue marketing, you can do it for your stuff, too...

Hot Forecast for Weather-Triggered Ads

Ever seen an ad for a frosty Coke when it's absolutely miserably cold outside? Weather Channel is looking to fix that with ads on your cell phone that customize based on the weather in your zip code.

I think a fair number of new technology marketing techniques get hyped way before their time. This one is a bit early, too, but it's a great idea that should do well for the advertisers and the Weather Channel folks.

Because rule #1 for writing a compelling ad is to make it seem like it was written specifically for the person reading it. And what could be smarter than an umbrella ad that only shows up on rainy days, or that frosty Coke ad showing up when you're hot and parched? Weather-triggered ads have existed in other media for a while; it's logical they move to the cell phone.

By the way, the Weather Channel has been a leader in customized delivery of ads, both online and on-the-air, for some time. As a result, they've been included in many of my company's media buys over the years.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Differentiate or Die

Years ago, my company was hired by Kmart to revive their stalled housewares division. We suggested they hire an emerging star named Martha Stewart. No, we didn't charge enough for that idea.

Yet, despite the billions in Martha profits, Kmart filed bankruptcy in 2002. Why? Their brand positioning got stuck in the middle. The middle is quicksand, yet the middle is where so many clients try to go.

Walmart is always low prices. Target is cheap chic. Kmart tried to be as low cost as Walmart and as chic as Target. They were neither. Besides Martha, they had little to offer. And Walmart had computer system investments that makes their supply chain the envy of the world. Most importantly, the consumer can't label you if your stuck in the middle.

Despite the financial ruin that sits in the middle, so many businesses say, "Our solution is to offer X of this competitor and Y of this other competitor. We'll be unstoppable." In actuality, you won't capture the mindshare of either X or Y. And that may leave you RIP. You'll end up as Kmart.

Decide who you really are (cost leader, quality leader, thought leader, service leader) and be that. Avoid the middle. Dante reserves the lowest place in hell for the fence sitters.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Google and Pay-Per-Action Ads

Google's going to try out a whole new style of AdWords measurement. According to an article in Business Week today, Google's pay-per-click model would be supplemented with a program under which advertisers will pay only when a click on an ad results in a particular action (i.e., a sale, or a download, or reaching a particular page). Pay-per-click meet your cousin: Pay-per-action.

Rather than the auction style they use now, where the advertiser who pays the most per click shows up first (and the web publisher has no control over what ad shows up on their site), the advertisers under this model would offer a price they were willing to pay for an ad and what the "action" would be to trigger the payment. The publisher would then pick which ads show up on their site based, I would think, on who is likely to end up paying them most.

Many are saying this is the holy grail of measurable advertising and there are some upsides for advertisers to be sure.

Three downsides though, and they're big ones:
1) The onus for success is no longer on the advertiser, but on the publisher. Now, if you get the eyeballs and can't close them because your website or your product stinks, that's your problem. If you don't close enough sales, you've got to fix it. Under this model, if you don't close enough sales, you don't pay for the ad exposure. The publisher can't close a deal for you, so why do they want to take the "risk" of wasting ad space?
2) Since publishers can choose the advertisers, big name advertisers will be most likely to be picked (because they're least likely to have a crappy business model). This will wreck the current system, which really puts the little guy on nearly even footing with the big guy.
3) While ad costs may jump from say $0.40 per click to $4.00 per action, how does that benefit Google if there are 10x fewer actions than clicks? The money is the same. Google's profit last year was $3.1b. I don't see this plan increasing that figure.

My guess: Google will try it and then abandon it--if they can get away with it politically.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Power of Divergence

Everyone's talking about convergence. The iPhone. Set top boxes that are also computers. Bundled phone/internet/TV services. Great to talk about. Exciting to hear about how simple our lives are going to be once it's done. We've been yammering about this stuff for a decade, and it's limping along.

But there's a book I read a while back that made realize how all those efforts are swimming upstream against the natural order of things.

You've probably guessed the name from the picture. If you're in marketing and haven't read this book, buy it today. Using a Darwinian point of view, Al & Laura Ries make a great case for the power of divergence, and how great brands are created out of divergence.

Think about any category: phones (home phone service, business phone service, cell phone service, VOIP phone service), cars (cars, SUVs, luxury SUVs, crossover vehicles), coffee (homemade, decaf, freeze dried, drive through, gourmet), etc. etc... All these products started simply and then continued to diverge. And each divergence was a branding opportunity (AT&T, Cable & Wireless, Verizon, Vonage)... Your industry will diverge next. Who will capitalize on it, and why don't brand extensions work?

Buy it. Read it. I suspect if you apply it at the right moment, it can make you a lot of money, and save you from incredibly costly mistakes...

But Wait, There's More...

There is more. More direct response TV time being sold than prior years. In fact, it's one of the hottest growing segments of TV buying, according an article in AdAge. It's hotter than the Flowbee with free shipping and three easy payments.

Why, partly because big money folks like P&G are turning their vast dollars to it, thereby driving up the cost. And partly because, strange as it seems, this stuff works. You can sell a ton of Ronco products, or ear lifts, or digi-draws if you do it right.

The question becomes, with DRTV costs rising 7% in an otherwise flat market, when does the market tip out of balance, and when does it stop working. The contour pillow is already pulling out of the game. Let's hope we never lose the Flowbee. For goodness sake, not the Flowbee...

Monday, March 19, 2007

First Question: How's Your Product?

By the time most clients come to me, they've settled on their product, the final features are determined, usually the price is set. Our instructions are to "go sell it." Our first step is to ask for market research on what the customers want and how they've reacted to this product, and usually there isn't much. We want it so we can develop advertising that really moves people to buy. And the right advertising direction is critical, don't get me wrong.

But it's not nearly as important as the product in the first place. I mean, did anyone really buy an iPod because of those weird dancing commercials? They weren't bad spots, they contributed to the "cool factor," but they weren't the reason for boom. The iPod just worked better. It was easier to find music, to download it, to sync it. It has, essentially, one big button that lets you control everything. It just worked.

And the other "sensations" of our time, like eBay and PayPal, aren't huge because they got the right ad at the right time. But because they were products that were developed with the end user in mind, and adapted until they took off.

We can make a great ad for your product. Can you make a great product for our ad?

Well Brewed

Quick, describe your favorite Starbucks TV commercial? Go ahead, I'll wait...

Of course, Starbucks doesn't run TV commercials. Hardly any radio either. And they've made a fair number of marketing mistakes in recent months in their quest for ubiquity. They're rushing towards losing their soul, and no less than their CEO is concerned about it.

But I've got to give them props for a guerilla marketing campaign they did around Christmas. They made fake Starbucks holiday cups that were actually giant magnets, and team members drove around with them on the roof of their cars. If you rushed over to warn them, they thanked you and gave you a coupon for a free cup of coffee.

Starbucks brand is experiential and their marketing is about being good for the community. It's all about being nice people, and local. This campaign fit that beautifully, in addition to being a very clever new idea. And inexpensive. Nice work.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Loser Generated Content

The hot topic in marketing this year is, of course, "user generated content." This is where your customers make commercials for you. I'm torn on this.

On the one hand, ignoring the customers who are passionate enough about you to make a commercial for you would be a huge mistake. And the future of the 30-second TV spot hasn't been bright for some time. I do believe that brands that take risks and engage with their customers are those that are going to thrive over the long term.

At the same time, I've got to think that we're in the middle of a fad right now. Have you watched any of the schlock out there? I'm a big fan of the "I've got Lance in my pants" radio commercials, but spend 5 minutes watching the user generated content they've got out there and tell me: Am I the only one who just lost my appetite?

Friday, March 16, 2007

East Texas, Pure and Similar?

You're a small town in East Texas named Longview. You put out $90,000 to a marketing firm to do a branding study and come up with a new themeline. They settle on: "East Texas: Pure and Simple" to replace the old themeline, "The Best View of the Texas Lake Country."

You proudly announce your new themeline! Then the word starts coming in. Another city already uses that themeline. As does a third city. Ooops. Pretty embarrassing.

But it gets worse. You later find out that one of the cities using the themeline is a client of the marketing firm you hired to do the work! How could they not know? Or did they think nobody would find out? What a disaster. And the marketing firm is NOT in the article about it offering any explanation, so they must not be good at Crisis PR either. Read the article here.

As of this moment, the marketing firm's press release page says nothing about the debacle, although they do proudly display the press release on the branding announcement. Wow. I hope they are working late trying to dig out from this mess.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Getting the Edge

I'm thinking today about something very basic: the type of shaving cream I use. And it's struck me that my entire adult life I've used the same shaving cream. Edge Gel. With the orange cap.

I've used another kind once or twice, when I had to borrow it from a roommate, or on a trip, or something. But I've never bought another kind of shaving cream.

It goes back to freshman year in college. Those little bags they give out the first week of class. They always had Edge Gel. With the orange cap. What did that program cost? A freshman in college, out on my own for the first time... And all the advertising by all the other shaving cream companies in the history of my adult life has been wasted. Because I don't think when I'm in the shaving cream aisle. I reach for the Orange Cap.

When are your customers looking to buy your category for the first time? Don't wait for them to come to you. Go find them...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Will it Blend?

I was reading a great article today about the best way to do viral video. In it, they mention a series of videos done by a company I had never heard of, called Blendtec. The video series is called "Will it Blend," and it's one of the most popular on YouTube. You can watch it here.

What I love about these videos is that they fit the rules of the medium they are on: YouTube. They're quirky. Sort of dumb. Low budget. But what I love more about them is that I bet they sell a ton of blenders. I've shown these videos to two people. Both said the same thing: "I bet those blenders make a great margarita."

Target audience for blenders: I'm thinking 18-30 year olds buy the most of these things. And I'm betting dollars to doughnuts that most of them are like me and never heard of Blendtec before someone sent them a link to these videos.

That's good marketing. Excellent work by Blendtec. I have no doubt that someone along the way told them "Will it Blend" was stupid. It, like, so was not...