Feb 29, 2008

Link Love

A bunch of great posts from all over worth checking out this weekend:

Noah Brier has a great post called Brands in a World of Costless Interaction that's all about the changing nature of marketing (e.g. The Real Digital Revolution™)

CK, who usually writes about much weightier stuff, shows off a clever little video that's well worth the three minutes it'll take to watch it.

Adpulp has a tweet from Critical Mass' David Armano on why agencies have such a tough time with social media.

Matt Dickman has a great piece on his techno//marketer blog about the Google Hot Trends service, which lets you see the search terms garnering the most heat on an hourly basis. I've bookmarked this myself and it really is pretty fascinating.

Daily Biz looks at the pitfalls of User-Generated Content and using the "hope" method of creating viral-type buzz.

Ad Broad bemoans the lowly status her agency gives its interactive department, while Jane Sample offers a business-driven reason why.

Mack Collier on the much-discussed benefits of "free" in regards to the TED conference.

BBH London's Scamp offers up a new Tuesday Tip on How To Get A Pay Raise.

Deep Focus' Ian Schafer (or rather, Nick Braccia, his fill-in for the week) offers this insight into the new, new things in gaming.

And finally, for a great non-ad-related read, Daily Fix editor Ann Handley has her own blog called Annarchy where this very funny story about an airport shoeshine appears.

One More: A bunch of people in and around the ad/new media industry have put together a site called 192021.org that's all about the rise of the megacity and its effect on society at a number of levels. If you get into geeky socioeconomic stuff the way I do, you'll love it - be sure the check out the bit that shows how the list of the world's 20 largest cities has changed over the past 1008 years.

Enjoy the weekend. It's almost Spring.

Feb 28, 2008

Mini Love

So a friend of mine came home the other day to find a shiny black box on his doorstep. It seems he'd recently bought a Mini Cooper and the box was a gift from the company.

A week after he'd gotten it, he was able to recite to me, in fairly good detail, everything that was in the box (mostly toys-- a foldable model of a Mini, adhesive word puzzles to put on the car's windows, a deck of cards.) He was clearly thrilled and this is a veteran ad guy with a healthy degree of skepticism, not some wide-eyed dilettante.

Mini is well-known for its innovative follow-up programs with customers. (Another friend got a toy model of his Mini a few years back, and was similarly delighted.) But more than delighted, these guys have become what the kids call "Brand Evangelists." In just a few short years they've made Mini into a Prom King Brand™.

What's more, they're also illustrating another Toadian premise: Total Branding* - the idea that everything is an opportunity for branding, from your store to your uniforms to your sales receipts to (in this instance) your follow-up material.

It's the best way to ensure you'll never hear your customers say "I like you, but... Your Brand Is Not My Friend™"

*I'm working on a catchier term for this.

Feb 26, 2008

The Re-Education Of Bob Barista

So Starbucks announced today that they'd be shutting down all their stores for three hours today so that they can "re-educate" their baristas in the "art of espresso" and otherwise get their mojo back.

It's a clever move for Starbucks, sure to generate a whole lot of press and it shows that they are committed to improving their product and service in a way that rings a lot truer and more authentic than any ad campaign ever could.

As if to ensure that the event gets even more press, rival Dunkin' Donuts is promoting 99 cent drinks today, the synergy of the two events should prove too good for most editors to pass up.

There's also this quote from Schultz:
We are passionate about our coffee. And we will revisit our standards of quality that are the foundation for the trust that our customers have in our coffee and in all of us.
And while some may question the wisdom of putting your shortcomings on display, I think it's the perfect strategy for a brand like Starbucks, a brand consumers view as very focused on product and experience. The "re-education" seems authentic to them, whereas if say Dunkin' Donuts had done it, it would have seemed forced.

Feb 25, 2008

Creativity Is Relative

I’m convinced that one of the main stumbling blocks agencies have in regards to new media is that the best use of these media rarely involves anything we currently consider the domain of the creative department.

Most—like the Twitter example in the previous post--- are promotional in nature. (Unless you’re a Prom King brand™, you’ve got to do something to get people to engage with you, especially in a brand new medium.) And they rely on consumers or celebrities or other third parties to create them. They’re clever in a different way—they provide functionality for the consumer and give them something they can use or utilize, as opposed to traditional advertising which provides news for the consumer in an entertaining manner.

Faced with this unfamiliar paradigm, traditional agencies are shying away, since they have no way of judging whether this is “good” or not, no way of gauging whether they’re doing it “better” than anyone else.

Which is the wrong way to look at it. Right now, the main thing is to be doing it before anyone else and doing it right, which is in fact, very creative. As users become familiar with the media and the novelty wears off, traditional creativity will indeed become a factor. But right now, it’s all about being the first one to get people to actually engage with the technology in a way that actually provides value.

Feb 24, 2008

Twittering As The Ultimate Ad Vehicle

The more I twitter (tweet?) the more I see its value for advertisers. Not for consumers, mind you, because your average Joe has no need for a service that basically replicates the group email or Facebook status update.

But for advertisers of a certain bent, it may prove to be a windfall.

Allow me to explain: The most successful uses of Twitter I’ve seen are tweets from reporters who are “embedded” at actual events, e.g. Hillary Clinton’s hotel room the night of a primary or the Giant’s locker room when the won the Super Bowl.

That makes sense, because Twitter’s gift is that it allows you to follow the conversations and thoughts of people who don’t want to hear from you. Ergo, I can sign up to receive Katie Couric’s tweets as she sips wine with the Clintons and she doesn't need to agree to receive mine. This gives me the illusion of being an “insider” and having information that my friends don’t, while relieving Couric of the burden of listening to me drone on about advertising.

Now like most new media, this isn’t something that works for every brand. But if your brand has some sort of connection to an event (e.g. you’re Reebok and it’s the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament)—even a remote one (e.g. you’re Coke and it’s Oscar night) and you can find someone whose tweets would be relatively insightful/entertaining to more committed fans, then you’ve got yourself a blockbuster idea. I mean what if, say Coke had gotten Perez Hilton into the Oscars and he was tweeting about the show for them. That would certainly draw a crowd. Even more relevant would be Reebok getting someone like Charles Barkley (Barkley could read the phone book and make me laugh) to tweet about the Final Four.

And that’s all the free thinking I’m giving away today.

Feb 21, 2008

Web, Well Done

Props to Adscam proprietor G. Parker for calling attention to this website* for Dutch department store Hema. The product page is very cleverly done, almost a TV commercial in and of itself.

Now granted the site isn't particularly functional (you can't actually buy anything) but that seems more a matter of not having the back end up to speed rather than a conscious decision to avoid e-commerce: it's not hard to imagine the site working as is, only with hardcore functionality added on.

This is the sort of "always on" branding more companies should be doing, where even mundane things like e-commerce sites and store receipts are branded. It adds value to the brand because it makes the consumer feel cared about--someone thought it was worth it to do something this clever for me, the customer.

Nice job.

UPDATE: AdBroad had called this site out about 3 weeks ago. That's what I get for not clicking through ;)

*Wait a few seconds for the page to load - you'll see what I'm talking about.

Feb 20, 2008

McMansions Are The New Tenements

In keeping with this week's class warfare theme, there's a fascinating article in this month's Atlantic Monthly by Christopher B. Leinberger that posits that today's exurban McMansion communities are tomorrow's slums.
The gist of Leinberger's argument is that we are turning back to a preference for more urban living, which means that city centers and older, more affluent "railroad suburbs" (those with actual town centers built around a commuter train station) are going to continue to become hot; while isolated McMansion communities with lots of cul-de-sacs but few amenities, are on their way south. Leinberger's prediction is that as owners are unable to make their money back on their (shoddily built) McMansions, they will take to either abandoning them or subdividing and renting them, creating isolated ghettos far from the notice of the chattering classes.

In other words, American cities are all going to become a lot more like Paris, where the lower classes are isolated in housing projects in outlying banlieues

There are myriad implications for marketers if this shift happens, both in terms of the type of products desired by people in urban settings who rely on public transportation and in terms of the actual urban settings themselves, where people are able to actually walk places. Off the top of my head, that means greater emphasis on outdoor advertising (bus shelters and train station posters) and word-of-mouth.

Since the first part of the equation-- the wholescale gentrification of urban areas-- is already well under way (check out the number of poor people in Manhattan or San Francisco today vs. ten years ago) Leinberger may just be on to something.

More Toad

The New York Times' Michelle Slatalla is not finding any Twitter converts in her house. Check out my take on it at Beyond Madison Avenue.

Thanks to Toad's Sixth Reader for calling my attention to this bit in Campaign (the UK's answer to AdAge or Adweek) where they call out a comment I made on ScampBlog about Grey London's choice of a digital creative as their new agency ECD.

Feb 18, 2008

Commodity vs Experience

New York Times columnist David Brooks, author of the most excellent BoBos In Paradise, had a fascinating column last week that deserves some exploration from a marketing POV.

Although the column itself was a take on the Hillary vs. Obama contest, Brooks framed it in terms of how our increasingly class-based society has bifurcated retail shopping into two very different experiences.

The first, which he calls "Commodity Providers" deliver just that: the product you want at a low price, no bells and whistles. Brooks uses the Safeway supermarket chain as his example, though just about every industry has its equivalent: Walgreens, Airtran, Holiday Inn.

The second are "Experience Providers" - all the brands I call "Prom King Brands" plus all the other BoBo (Bohemian Bourgeois) faves: Starbucks, Apple, W Hotels, Virgin - where the retail experience is just that: an experience.

Now Brooks attributes this to liberal guilt:
They want an uplifting experience so they can persuade themselves that they’re not engaging in a grubby self-interested transaction. They fall for all that zero-carbon footprint, locally grown, community-enhancing Third Place hype. They want cultural signifiers that enrich their lives with meaning.
But I don't really buy that. I think that for this cohort, shopping is just plain entertainment. They have enough money that paying $5 for a coffee drink or $1500 for a laptop computer isn't really that big a deal. And if they're going to be spending their hard-earned money on things, they want to be entertained while they're doing it. Experiential marketers make them feel special. They add a certain value that allows the BoBos to justify the extra $4 they just spent on a Venti Caramel Latte. So in a sense, it's all about entitlement, not guilt.

But either way, what's telling here is how quickly we are moving towards a two-part society. Now mind you, there's no hard line and people will move across the barrier depending on what's important to them or what's more convenient at the moment. But the either/or framework of this division is of great importance to marketers. People seem to want one or the other and to identify with their choice. It's a phenomenon that seems destined to extend beyond the retail industry into just about every sort of product out there. The upper classes get the image-drive experiential products and services while the rest of the population gets the no-frills generics. Psychologically that drives us farther apart than ever, farther apart than Hillary vs. Obama.

Something to think about, for sure.

Feb 12, 2008

"Branded At Birth" on MP Daily Fix

I've got a post today on Marketng Profs Daily Fix about the branding machines that so many kids characters have become and its effect on our youngest consumers.

Check it out here.

Feb 11, 2008


There was an article last week in The Wall Street Journal (with accompanying video, above) about how, in light of the avian flu, the Vietnamese are eating more rats.

Cats and snakes are making it onto the menu too, but they don’t seem to have quite the same level of popularity as rats. And while some claim that rat tastes a lot like chicken, it is tough to make that leap of faith when, as the reporter notes, you’re munching on a “tiny rat drumstick.”

Now that you’ve completely lost your appetite, I’d like you to consider the cultural factors at play in our food choices and the way that marketing can effect them. Lobster was once considered poor man’s food and was a common menu item for New Englanders. Turtles, particularly in the form of turtle soup, were a highly sought after delicacy during the prior Gilded Age. (For those who couldn’t afford turtle there was even something called Mock Turtle Soup.)

Look at caviar. These tiny black fish eggs are likely the West’s most expensive food item. Yet given the choice between a bowl of M&Ms and a bowl of caviar, most Americans would choose the M&Ms. So what (other than scarcity) makes caviar so expensive?


Marketing helps create a perception of desirability that goes way beyond taste. There’s the sense of belonging, that your food choices make you part of a group. I mean if you boil fast food advertising down to its essence, the primary message is “eating our food makes people happy” with “happiness” defined different ways by different chains.

Take the whole notion of children eating food that’s different from adults as manifested by the “children’s menu” in countless American restaurants. This is a peculiarly post-war American idea, spurred on by marketing. Children in Third World countries do not, I assure you, get served a special menu of beige foods (chicken nuggets, French fries, macaroni and cheese) to spare their parents the hassle of forcing them to eat things they may not like.

The disconnect was crystallized (for me anyway) in Ratatouille, a movie, funny enough, about a cooking rat (as opposed to a cooked one.) There’s a somewhat pivotal scene where the forces of good overthrow the evil corporate chiefs who have plastered a beloved chef’s name on a line of frozen pizzas and burritos, and to celebrate, they set fire to the frozen entrees. This was baffling to most of the children in the audience, for whom frozen pizza is one of the four main food groups.

Which brings us back to rats and how the Vietnamese market them. The article tells us that in upscale restaurants, rat is an “off-menu” item, only available to those who ask and that its appearance on menus can sometimes create the perception that anything listed as “chicken” is in fact a former rodent or feline. But at less formal spots, rat is quite popular and much of the appeal is due to the fact that it is not potentially-avian-flu-carrying chicken. The Vietnamese believe rat to be quite healthful and no amount of Western-induced squeamishness has changed that. And since this is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese and Vietnamese calendars, many are hoping to capitalize on the marketing tie-in.

Feb 7, 2008

Divine Justice

Today's Wall Street Journal has a (free for now) article about the Kafka-esque obstacles lawyers face when trying to advertise their own services... from other lawyers.

The debates are truly mind-boggling: a Syracuse lawyer was dinged for an ad where stranded space aliens hired him as a defense attorney because it contained "patent falsities"

"It cannot be denied," wrote assistant New York Attorney General Patrick MacRae in a court filing, "that there is little likelihood that [the lawyers] were retained by aliens..."
Another debate, this time in Florida, centered on whether lions are acceptable advertising icons, tigers having been deemed unacceptable by the courts for their negative imagery.

For anyone who's had their copy raked over by lawyers intent on finding shades of meaning unfathomable to all but the truly demented, there is no small amount of glee to be found from an article like this. Especially those of you who toil in pharma advertising, where the legal ministrations truly define the term "Kafka-esque"


Feb 4, 2008

Social Media Is Not Like Skateboarding

CK has a great post
about how so many of her marketing client type friends think they're "too old" for social media, even though chronologically they're still in their 30s.

And I find the same thing happen with my friends too, even the ones in the creative departments of ad agencies. When I tell them I have a blog or that I'm on Facebook, I often get razzed about whether I listen to Hannah Montana or hang out at skateboard parks. Implication being that I'm way too old to be involved in things like social media that are best left to "the kids." (NB: You'd also be surprised at how many of them still assume a "blog" is some sort of online diary, where I write down my deepest, most intimate thoughts for the world to read.)

Now these are normally intelligent, sophisticated people who, if I had to guess, feel very in control of the worlds they've created for themselves and don't want to put themselves in a situation where they're no longer in control and where they're afraid they're going to wind up seeming like the chaperones.

The truth, as anyone reading this probably knows, is pretty far from that. Blogs aren't all that different than magazines, Facebook and LinkedIn are pretty intuitive once you start playing around with them and posting on a message board isn't brain surgery. What's more, unless you're actually on a Hannah Montana or High School Musical site, the majority of your fellow social media contacts are going to be established professionals around your age who share everything from your musical tastes to your professional interests.

If you work in advertising or marketing, you should definitely be checking out as many new media vehicles as you have time for, as many Twitters and Pownces and Second Lives as your schedule allows. You don't have to be an active user but you do need to check it out enouh so that you can speak intelligently to it when it comes up with your clients. Don't forget too that someday all those kids are going to be your target audience and you're going to want to know how they think and how they operate.

You'll probably even wind up discovering why social media is so popular and why so many people spend so much time on it: It's kinda fun, once you get the hang of it.

Feb 3, 2008

Second Half Impressions

Richard Simmons in the tire ads was much funnier if you'd seen the first one with the squirrel.

Hyundai spots simple but clever. Very Goodby. I'm the likely target and I'd definitely go check out the Genesis.

Props to Pixar for doing a real commercial, not just clips

NFL's own spots nicely shot, nicely done, but I'm always a sucker for sappy sports stories, so don't go by me.

Coke Thanksgiving Parade spot brilliant, back to the old Coke glory days. Well executed too-- didn't see the Charlie Brown thing coming. This is one for the books.

Okay. So Coke spot was definite winner in my book. Simple idea, brilliantly executed, appeals to everyone from kids to seniors - just like Coke.

But let's be real - the main thing people will remember from tonight is the incredibly close game and how the Giants upset the Pats perfect season with less than 2 minutes to play.

First Half Impressions

I hope the rest of America loves that Tide Stain Stick spot as much as I do. My fear is the tonality is sophisticated enough that they may find it "weird." But I hope I'm wrong- success would do a lot to convince big advertisers that Americans are ready for that level of messaging

Audi wins for most memorable image, though I did have to explain to the Tadpoles that "there was this famous movie in the 70s called The Godfather and there was a famous scene where..."

Didn't get the connection between Naomi, the dancing lizards and SoBe until 15 minutes later when they sponsored the halftime show and I realized that a lizard (gekko? chameleon?) was part of their logo.

Game is very close and exciting. Puts the commercials into perspective. Makes it hard for ad bloggers to take bathroom breaks...

More later.