Archive for marketing

I always wonder about writing from anger. In general it’s not a good place to write from. Writing from anger means that you’re taking a hard line stance. Stating a very fervent opinion. Often this is polarizing.

But are there times when it’s good and healthy. And then perhaps there are times when it’s necessary.

This isn’t necessarily how I wanted to begin to revisit my blog but alas it’s a blog that as stated is about culture and what I’m noticing about culture these days is pretty reprehensible.

Here is what I wonder… Is it possible that there has been such a confluence of events in which we as a nation have thought we’ve progressed so much but in actuality we’ve regressed to Pre-Civil Rights era times?

Over the past several weeks I’ve noticed a degree of frighteningly and racially charged statements and commentary from a myriad of sources.

There was the backlash about the comments from a dated interview with the Abercrombie Fitch CEO about body image. The blogger who largely exposed that story neglected to mention that A&F several years before settled a class action suit for $50M in which they admitted to designating minorities to back-room positions. Should the CEO’s comments about body image have been a surprise?

There was the viral undercover video from ABC’s show “What Would You Do?” of three individuals each filmed while trying “steal” a bike. There was a young white male, then a young African-American male (both dressed similarly) and lastly a young attractive blonde woman. No one contested the young white male even when he admitted he was stealing the bike. Almost everyone contested the young black male and one called the police with one going so far as to take his “tools”. With the attractive young white woman… people offered to help cut the bike free. Profiling much?

Then there was Sergio with his comment about serving Tiger Woods fried chicken for dinner.

And most recently there’s Paula Deen.

Oh, Paula Paula Paula.

I’m sure you’ve heard about her most recent deposition statements stemming from a lawsuit in which she admittedly uses the N-word freely and makes racist and anti-semitic jokes and hatched a plan to host a dinner in which they would be served by African-Americans dressed as slaves. And then today Paula who agreed to an interview with Matt Lauer on the TODAY Show failed to show. Perhaps someone informed Paula, that the slaves were freed December 18, 1865. At least on paper.

And what I don’t understand even further is the support for Paula Deen on the Food Network’s Facebook page which may in fact be a minority of people but a loud bunch. Kudos to The Food Network for not renewing Deen’s contract.

But then again I don’t understand the support for Sergio Garcia either.

For both Deen and Garcia these are comments which apparently so easily were/are at the forefront of their minds and so easily roll off their respective tongues.

Apologies seem to be a means not saving their own personal grace or to be truly sincere towards those they might have hurt for that matter but really a means to save their bank accounts.

So what was the confluence of events that has led to what is a seemingly festering culture of racism?

And what is it that suddenly enables certain people to have a level of comfort with feelings that are clearly so divisive? My guess is that it was the election of the President of the United States of America and partisan politics.

On the one hand the election of the first African-American President in our nation’s short history in theory symbolized how far we had come from when men were unleashing dogs and fire hoses on innocent human beings. Which at least one person understands that in geologic time frames was basically like yesterday.

But on the other hand is it possible that one moment in time brought forth feelings that had been simmering beneath the surface for those who simply haven’t made it past race and culture.

Is it possible that one moment during a State of the Union address where Rep Joe Wilson felt comfortable enough to disrespect not only the President but the very office of the President indicative of what certain people really feel about race and culture? And is it possible that as partisan politics continues to rage and common decency, respect and discourse seems to elude us do people’s true colors begin to show? Has the perception of acceptable behavior at the highest level given people permission to air their feelings no matter how hurtful or disrespectful?

There is a quote that a friend of mine once shared with me and I’ll do my best to paraphrase it but it essentially says that so as our leaders do, we are then comfortable to do.

In other words perhaps partisan politics cuts deeper than we think to reveal ugly ugly truths.

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A friend and colleague recently posted the Nike spot titled Courage to his Pinterest page. It got me to thinking about Nike and the art of the montage spot.

Nike and advertising are basically synonymous.

Advertising and montages can be considered synonymous too.

However, good advertising montages are another story. They are typically an anthem spot with a familiar celebrity’s voiceover trying to talk about how whatever company is so valuable or how valuable you are to whatever company.

The reality is most of these spots suck.

Unless you’re Nike. And then you get guys like me paying homage to W+K and Nike for their omnipresent greatness and ability to so consistently create great montage spots that deliver on the brand promise and make me want to “Just Do It.”

With that, I deliver my top six favorite Nike montage spots.


For anyone who has played competitive sports, you know everything about this moment.

This is for the new Nike Fuel band. I’ll be taking the stairs from now on, thanks.

This just might make you believe that there’s an athlete in all of us.

My better is better than your better. Yes, Ladainian that would be correct. One commercial would vault Saul Williams into the public spotlight and end up being a favorite workout song on everyone’s iPods.

This spot gives me goosebumps every single time. Without fail. It speaks to the elegance of sport and I love it.

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Jinx, I owe you a soda?

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The other day my 8 year old daughter and I said something at the exact same moment. She laughed and said “Jinx, I owe you a soda.”

I laughed but then thought, wait, “Isn’t it supposed to be, jinx buy me a Coke?”

Is this an uh oh, moment for Coca-Cola? Is there a cultural shift going on right now among my children’s generation where generally middle class parents are less likely to feed their children fast food, soda and sugary fruit drinks. Where we actively buy things that at the very least don’t have high-fructose corn syrup or are organic.

The mere fact that the Corn Refiners Association has a commercial campaign attempting to legitimize high-fructose corn syrup with the line “sugar is sugar” should be telling enough.

Perhaps even more frightening for Coke is when your name starts to slip from the lexicon of an innocent multi-generational game played among kids.

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In any sort of filmed medium there’s this thing known as “continuity.” This is when for example you see a scene with a glass of water that is half full. Pan away and pan back and the glass is full. Or there’s a painting on a wall in one shot and it’s not there in another.

This means that scenes were edited from different takes and no one paid attention.

For film buffs, it’s well known that Spielberg could give a rat’s ass about continuity. He argues that if you notice whether or not a glass is full or empty means he’s done a lousy job making a film.

I would argue that in this way Steve Jobs shared this trait with Steven Spielberg although he may not have known it.

Take the iPad for example. When it came out people complained (mostly techies) about it not having Flash. I think Steve Jobs knew that it didn’t inherently matter. Once a user has the device in their hands the overall experience trumps minor flaws.

It’s not to say that we shouldn’t fix mistakes if we can but perhaps not being afraid of a minor flaw in deference to the overall user experience is more important.

Food for thought?

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Pink Toenails

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I’m channel surfing last night and despite about a thousand channels to choose from, not much is on.

I settle on The Daily Show despite the fact that I was fairly certain that it might depress me. Anything to do with “news” these days seems to be inherently depressing. Even making fun of the news.

Well wouldn’t you know it but The Daily Show would deliver.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Jon Stewart and all he does to expose the buffoonery that our news media outlets have become and for calling them to the carpet on this little gem.

“TOEMAGEDDON 2011: This Little Piggy Went to Hell” is what this would be dubbed.

The creative director for J. Crew, Jenna Lyons is pictured in an ad with her five year old son, Beckett. The moment seems candid and sweet as the two look lovingly at one another nose to nose. Nothing like a little childhood innocence right? Oh and in the ad, he has his toenails painted pink.

Well that is to say until it hits the media airwaves and turns into this statement of a woman trying confuse her son’s gender identity.

Seriously? WTF is wrong with us?

I have two daughters. They play outside. They get dirty. They dress like princesses. They paint their toenails and fingernails. They also have been known to paint Daddy’s.

Wait. Stop the presses. Get GMA, CNN, the Today Show and FOX news parked outside of my house. OMG, he lets his daughters paint his toes. Oh the humanity. They’ll forever be confused about gender roles because I let them paint my toes and even wore the nail polish out in public. WITH FLIP FLOPS.

Oh dear God. Wait. Now I’m confused. I’m not sure whether to stand or sit to take a leak.

The Daily Show – Toemageddon 2011 – This Little Piggy Went to Hell
Tags: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

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What Makes You… You?

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I’ve been working on this post for quite some time. It’s purely conceptual in nature and I’m unsure of where it will go or even what it means to a degree. It’s just something that’s been mulling around in my brain for a while and I’m trying to figure out if it’s valid or valuable or if I should just move on.

My wife who is my de facto editor for most of my posts said that while she liked the general gist of this post that it seemed pompous. Great, so I’m an asshole. Well hopefully you won’t see this post as pompous but reflect on yourselves and what makes you… well you. Hopefully, you’re not an asshole.

“Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences.”

So where does culture fit into the mix of your DNA? Is there such a thing as cultural DNA? If you google cultural DNA there are several views of what it might be.  There doesn’t seem to be any real consensus and it’s a term that seems to be applied to a myriad of things from corporate culture to the content of one’s character and more. I’d like to apply this term to people as individuals and how you’re “defined” as it relates to marketing, advertising, brand choice and purchasing decisions.

In the marketing universe typically we bucket consumers. And we bucket them as simply as possible to ensure that we reach the greatest number of people. Age, Gender, Race, Geography, Household Income. Occasionally we’ll create custom segmentations and create fancy names for those segmentations and it’s all very clever and smart. We’ll do focus groups and ethnographies in the interest of getting to know “you”.

But what really makes you… you?

I like to think of consumers as a little bit more complex.

If you think about it everyone has what I’d like to think of as cultural DNA. It’s the what makes you… you.

I’ll use myself as an example.

I myself would say that I’m defined by at least 20 different cultures/sub-cultures/communities built up throughout my exposure to a variety of people and experiences throughout my life. This would include, Black culture specifically as it relates to the Civil Rights movement, Beat Generation writers, 60s drug culture, 80s preppy culture, 80s punk culture, early action sports culture, traditional sports culture, feminist culture, Italian-American culture, gay culture, Higher Ed Academia, NYC prep-school culture (yes it’s a culture) and so on. Then you throw in things like birth order and family legacy and things get even more complicated.

Put another way one way you could define a part of me is by my design sensibilities. I would say that I’m more “Dwell” then “Architectural Digest”. If I were to try and understand why I would guess that it was most closely related to my grandfather who was an architect who studied under Mies Van Der Rohe. Thus it’s very likely that my grandfathers design esthetic influenced my design sensibilities and in turn to this day influences purchase decisions related to various brands I migrate to.

Now what happens when you take the complexity I’ve discussed and two interesting people end up bearing children, their kids end up amassing the cultural DNA from both of their parents in addition to the cultural DNA they continually amass from external sources and sub-cultures.

And thus even more interesting and complex people are hatched.

So I guess the question is how do we take this and make it useful. Help.

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This is an extraordinarily complex post. There are two fundamental themes. The first is the notion of the changing means of how content is consumed. The second theme is that the notion of consolidation or “whole” really needs to give way to the notion of “fragmentation”.


Once upon a time we had three major networks. We came home from work. We watched the evening news. We ate dinner. Then we watched our shows. I literally grew up with M*A*S*H. MASH ran for 11 seasons beginning in 1972. So from about age 5 to about age 13 I would sit with my mom and step-father and watch MASH every week. I honestly cried during the last show.

Other shows I grew up with were “Different Strokes” (8 seasons), “Facts of Life” (9 seasons), “Dukes of Hazzard” (7 seasons), “Fall Guy” (5 seasons), “Magnum PI” (8 seasons) and of course “The Cosby Show” (8 seasons).

Hopefully, you’re starting to see a pattern. We used to “live” with TV shows. They were constants in our lives from season to season. We had relationships with these shows. Whether it was “St. Elsewhere” or “Hill Street Blues” we had prolonged relationships with shows and networks.

For the longest time every network followed a prescribed schedule. Then along came cable where repeats found new life and new audiences (or the same old ones). Then came FOX that started airing new shows when nobody else was. Then the Internet gradually began to turn things on its ear. Yet for some reason in the world of media planning and buying we still have a TV upfront.

I’ve known for quite some time that that the nature of TV shows and the way we watch them has been changing. I believe this to be a geologic change though. One in which we don’t necessarily see it happening. We make minor adaptations but there has yet to be a seismic shift.

That however I believe is coming. I’m not sure what it looks like. I’m not sure exactly when it will happen. Five years? Ten years? That’s where perhaps you can all lend a voice to predict or pontificate.

I believe that we are on the cusp of something and we need a much deeper understanding of people’s relationship with content.

What do we watch on which screen and why? Where does each “screen” fall as it relates to the trade-off of fidelity versus convenience? What is content we share versus content we commiserate about versus content we talk about at the water cooler?

We used to watch shows on a specific night. Now we may DVR a show and watch it on a different night. We may wait altogether and watch a whole season in weeks courtesy of Netflix. We may watch a show one week with friends and the next week online and the third week via a smartphone waiting at an airport.

Nevertheless, networks continue to present shows the same way all the time.

About a year ago, I watched Ken Block’s second iteration of Gymkhana.

No this isn’t Kurt Thomas’ attempt to extend his 15 minutes of fame and woeful acting skills on the heels of his early ‘80s film Gymkata. I’m talking about the founder of DC Shoes and his foray into the world of rally racing, stunt driving and the next generation of drifting.

Ken Block is a phenomenally intuitive marketer. Certainly as evidenced by his savvy in building DC Shoes into arguably one of the strongest action sports brands ever. Perhaps second only to Burton. Maybe it’s that no one felt comfortable to tell him the rules. Or he wasn’t listening anyway. Whatever it is, he knows right when he sees it.

Gymkhana 1 was originally posted about three years ago and between various posters of the video, it garnered over nine million views. Not too shabby. No doubt it was professionally shot at every level and Ken Block has money to throw at these things. Although, I’m pretty sure he’s mastered the art of OPM.

But then he came out with Gymkhana 2 (22m views). And Gymkhana 3 (25m views).

Nevertheless, while most create :60 spots and hope they’ll find viral traction on Youtube, Ken Block did it on purpose! And I know lots of people will say, “come on, we did that.” Tampax, Dove, Cadillac. Blah Blah Blah. I don’t think anyone has done it as well AND on purpose as Ken Block.

In Gymkhana 2, the video is 7 minutes and 32 seconds. They even call it an infomercial. At the beginning of the video note the following:

Bloody Brilliant.

How many people are choosing to watch your spots?

Now let’s just take YouTube and content as a whole. Consider this from the ADWEEK article by Brian Morrissey about “YouTube’s Stars”.

“The dirty secret of cable TV is audience numbers are often pitifully small, with many programs drawing under 100,000 viewers. That’s not the case for a select group of YouTube creators… The numbers they draw can be staggering. Comic actor Shane Dawson averages nearly 1.5 million views per day, according to video analytics service TubeMogul, and has racked up 670 million views of his videos over two and a half years. The typical YouTube star will average 250,000 views per video. ‘On any given night or day or two, the top 10 YouTubers will have more views than any cable channel,’ says Walter Sabo, a former ABC radio executive who started an Internet talent agency three years ago called HitViews.”

iJustine pictured to the left has more than 1m subscribers. DC Shoes… 79k subscribers.

Take that Ken Block.

Then if you consider the competing market for Hulu from this AdAge article about a new web ad video player from the Tremor/Scanscout merger.

“Tremor Media, the largest independent network, reached a deal last week to acquire Scanscout, one of its smaller competitors, in a bold attempt to consolidate the market, and create a scaled competitor to Hulu and YouTube. Separately, Undertone Networks is expected to announce a deal Monday to buy Jambo Media, a video syndication and ad platform. Two weeks ago, Specific Media snapped up BBE, one of the first pure-play video networks in the market… TV advertisers are the ones moving most aggressively into web video, looking to achieve similar goals through it. ‘I think that has been one thing that has been missing for advertisers is the ability to deliver mass reach,’ said Chris Allen, VP-video innovations at Starcom USA. ‘A lot of our clients are married to the reach metric, and TV delivers reach as fast as possible. The only way to achieve that reach online is through a network.’”

Is the :60 spot going away? No.

Does broadcast deserve its dominance and to make all the money? Most definitely not. Arguably, they are the least removed from purchase behavior. Wouldn’t it make sense that I’d be more likely if I was online to then stay online to purchase something as opposed to going from one screen to another to do so?

Are “reach and frequency” dated analytics? Do they truly get at how we consume media and connect to purchase behavior?

Once upon a time people laughed at cable as a network contender. ESPN, 24 hour sports. It’ll never work. FOX could never take on the Big 3. 24 hour news? Don’t be silly. 24 hour weather? Please!

Is Comcast/NBC really that big of deal? Not really in my opinion.

Fragmentation is the world of today. Whole is the world of yesterday.

No matter how big Comcast/NBC make themselves, the reality is that when it comes to content, they are hardly the only game in town.


McCracken, Grant  “Chief Culture Officer: How to Curate a Living Breathing Corporation”, 2010

Maney, Kevin “Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On and Others Don’t” 2009


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What Makes Great Ads Great?

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Last year following the Super Bowl I wrote a post about what happened to Volkswagen?  It was in response to a tweet from Marty St. George the CMO of jetBlue following VWs lackluster Super Bowl spot. The ad was mildly entertaining but hardly that compelling.  It got me wondering about what makes great advertising, great.

As if to emphasize this even further, recently I had an interesting interaction with my 7 year old daughter. I was reading “Beezus and Ramona” to her.  Despite there being a recent movie about these two precocious sisters, the reality is the books are pretty old. In this passage there was a reference to one of the most famous Alka Seltzer commercials.  I read it as if from the commercial, “I can’t believe I ate that whole thing.” When we finished the passage I asked her if she’d like to see the original commercial, fairly confident we could find it on YouTube.  We found it and my daughter would laugh hysterically reenacting it over the course of the next several weeks.

Husband: “I can’t believe I ate that whole thing.”

Wife: “You ate it Ralph.”

Husband: “I can’t believe I ate that whole thing.”

Wife: “Take two Alka Seltzer.”

As she laughed to herself, it dawned on me, this was a great ad. Iconic even.  But why?

I think in this case it was less Ralph and more his wife. A subtlety that just worked.

As I did with the original VW post I think it’s important that we need to provide a simple rating system for the quality of ads.

I think it might look something like this. Let’s consider this a spectrum in which generally a lot of the same companies generally hover in the same area.

Legendary/Iconic is just that. It’s designated as once in a lifetime… we talk about it for generations. Think DDB’s VW “Think Small” ads, Arnold’s “Driver’s Wanted”,  Alka Seltzer’s “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”, Apple’s “1984”, Coke’s “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”.

Great  means it stands out in the category and continually performs well and is stylistically imitated. For example Apple’s “Mac vs. PC” ads now being imitated by T-Mobile stand out in my mind. Another example would be Target. It’s really hard to say the impact Target’s brand ads have had on the industry let alone on their partners brands. Target has been amazing at nurturing its own brand while leveraging iconic brands.

Good means it basically does its job. And let’s not forget, the company and product have to stand behind the work. Generally successful ads here are incumbent of being a part of a larger campaign. For example I would put Hyundai in this category. Individually wouldn’t say any of Hyundai’s advertising is all that memorable. As a part of their entire marketing effort they’ve obviously done a pretty stand-up job.

Honorable Mention means it’s functionally decent break-even advertising. The sort of advertising that speaks to knowing 50 percent of your advertising works but not knowing which 50 percent.

Much like wealth in our country the greatest ads occupy the top one or two percent.

When I wrote the piece about the VW ads of yore, I wrote it because that’s what we were used to from VW. We were used to Legendary or at least Great. Even when campaigns weren’t great, they flirted with great.

But what makes great ads great? In my mind, there are a few things and they largely rest on the following:

  • The Idea
  • Suspension of Disbelief
  • Casting
  • That little something or certain moment

The Idea – First and foremost the best ads are generated from a good idea. At its foundation, it should go without saying that any great ad is borne from a fundamentally good and sound idea.

Suspension of Disbelief – Just because you’re dealing with 60 seconds, 30 or even 15, doesn’t mean that the rules of suspension of disbelief don’t apply.  It becomes harder to suspend disbelief when you’re presenting “real life” moments. Humor is probably the most effective way to enable people to suspend disbelief. The problem is that humor which while certainly subjective still relies on two critical things. The first is timing. The second is delivery.

Consider the Sony ads with Justin Timberlake who treats them more like an SNL skit than an ad.  He’s genuinely funny and allows the absurdity of any moment to disappear.

M&M successfully uses humor to suspend disbelief. One of my favorite spots as of late is the one where M&Ms characters are in the kitchen cabinet throwing things at this guy who’s simply trying to get his pregnant wife a “snack”. He tells the M&Ms to “get in the bowl.” One of the M&Ms fires back the most common of childish comebacks, “You get in the bowl.”

Another successful use of humor is with the FedEx ad where a group of staffers are looking at a map of the world and one of them is supposed to put a pin where China is. He doesn’t know where it is and tears down the whole map to avoid being “outted”.

As such with humor, casting becomes so important. In general it’s a very little moment, a split second that makes it or breaks it and that’s usually as a result of good casting.

When you’re not using humor and presenting truly real moments the challenge becomes one of sincerity.  Now you’re in a position where it has to be believable. Generally the best work in this realm comes from clearly understanding the brand. While Disney has lost some of its “magic” in my mind, its motivation is still to be thought of as truly the most magical place on earth. Or take Folgers’ spots. I’m fairly certain Folgers’ motivation in their ads is to make you cry. But in order to pull this sort of work off, it has to be sincere. Not about the coffee but about the moment.

All this being said perhaps though what is most important for great ads are two things. A collective will. And brave clients.

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My Jerry Maguire Social Media Moment

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Consumers and marketers have had what I’d call an “understanding” since the dawn of time. A quid pro quo as it were. You the consumer will accept a degree of marketing and salesmanship in exchange for a quality item or service of sorts.

Since consumers aren’t really the easiest bunch to please and can be a bit leery, marketers have had to resort to a mix of surprise, delight and entertainment to woo us. We are accepting of this to a degree. For marketers, the number of mediums in which to communicate to consumers has grown seemingly exponentially. Social media has become but one of those mediums.

With the advent of the Internet and expansive growth in technology came this thing called social networking.

Us as consumers would find refuge in such a place. It would be where we would begin to part with disruption marketing. It would be a place for us to network on our terms, to exchange memes, to showcase our intellectual or professional prowess, our banal activities, pictures of our kids on the beach or of us in a video getting stuck in a drier. Whatever it was, it was ours to engage with as we saw fit on our terms on our time.

Yet something happened. What was supposed to be ours became theirs.

The second we attributed analytics to it we missed the point.

The “Accidental Billionaire” Mark Zuckerburg instead of defending us, the 500 million people he quite literally owns, he now barters.

A friend of mine once equated Facebook as a TV channel, “where I can see what my friends are doing whenever I want.” At 500 million people, it’s more than a channel, it’s a network (as in television). But just like most networks they’re equally as perplexed about how to ensure their ability to deliver effective marketing to its audiences which is of course largely the basis of its valuation.

Do we blame investors? Of course they seek monetization but should it be at the expense of the relationship with the consumer?  It’s impossible to imagine Facebook ever going the way of the dodo but Facebook’s valuation as I’ve said is based largely on the backs of 500 million people and how much advertising revenue can be extracted from the company.

This is why I love Twitter, if for no other reason than Twitter seeks to wait as long as humanly possible to decide on monetization. They seek to find a balance between monetization and consumer experience. LinkedIn I believe successfully did the same thing.

Instead of looking at Facebook and discussing what’s going on behaviorally with how we communicate with one another or our relationship with privacy or lack thereof, companies see 500 million people and think dollar signs.

We forget about what’s important about social media. And shame on us for even conceiving of the term. It’s about “social” and us marketers being so high and mighty attempt to rob you the consumer of the “social” aspect and consider it a medium, where we can what? Not contribute to the conversation but interrupt the one you’re having.  Gee, sounds a lot like TV.

Over the past few years people have used the buzzword of this being the “social economy” when the reality is we should be calling this the era of the listening economy. If only we’d actually do it. Facebook recently mined our status updates for memology. But honestly did anything useful actually come out of it other than HMU (hit me up) is the new BRB (be right back)?

Facebook has become a place of information overload. Whoever knew the brilliance of brevity in 140 characters?

Perhaps, just maybe if we would actually listen, we might find ways to contribute to conversations. This is yet another reason I believe Twitter continues to thrive. It’s a place where not only do people exchange memes but people are inherently nice. You post a tweet seeking advice about something in Paris and someone in Sheboygan, WI offers up a solution.  It’s a place where you’re essentially listening first. The ones that shout the loudest on Twitter seem to get tuned out the most and much like television advertising or banner ads fade into the background.

Perhaps we can learn something from Google’s new 500 Billion Words project called “Ngram” which was featured in a cover article in the New York Times this week.

“’The goal is to give an 8-year-old the ability to browse cultural trends throughout history, as recorded in books,’ said Erez Lieberman Aiden, a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard. Mr. Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, assembled the data set with Google and spearheaded a research project to demonstrate how vast digital databases can transform our understanding of language, culture and the flow of ideas.”

I’m of course well aware that there are myriad of research companies that mine “conversations” and customer comments.

Consider this comment from David Gehring in a comment to a blog post called the “Death of Market Research” by Forrester’s Tamera Barber.

“Additionally, we’ve recently been diving into social media market research using tools like NetBase’s ConsumerBase product to analyze the qualitative values found in the amalgamated ‘conversation’ happening online about our client’s brands and shows. When these “non-traditional” data sources are approached with a thoughtful hypothesis and the same scientific rigor as our more traditional research efforts, we are able to derive some very powerful insights. And these insights translate well into strategic as well as tactical brand and product strategy.”

Perhaps we’re on the right path.

It seems to me, if we take time to listen and observe what social media means in a cultural context then maybe we’ll find better ways to monetize the medium in a fashion which allows for a happy co-existence.

Your thoughts?

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“Can I get you a Starbucks?”

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Recently I referred to Mark J. Penn’s book “Microtrends” about the notion of consumers sub-segmenting themselves into niches.  It is something that I firmly believe in but that being said, I think there are also what I like to refer to as “embedded” brands. My question to any readers of this post is there still such a thing as embedded brands?

What are embedded brands?  They are just that, embedded into our consciousness. They are our default brands. They are the reason why companies like P&G, Kraft, J&J, SC Johnson, Coca-Cola, Toyota, and others have such a stronghold on certain categories.

Embedded brands are generally mundane brands. Things like toothpaste or laundry detergent or dish soap.  Brands like Tide or Palmolive might be embedded brands. They are brands you don’t think about but interact with every day.

They are brands that enter our language. Brands such as Google. “Google it.” Starbucks has become a simple noun as opposed to a proper noun. “Hey, I’m going to get a Starbucks, can I get you anything.” Regionally being in the New England area, you will often hear people ask if they can get you a “Dunkin’s”.

They are brands that we might have adopted generationally. Our parents used it and perhaps even our grandparents before them. There is generally a perceived acceptance of quality and/or value.  They are top-of-mind brands. They are safe brands. They are brands that can recover quickly from the worst of public relations debacles. They are brands we grew up with.  Generally they are practical brands.  They are safe.

There might be up to two embedded brands in any category. An example might be Crest versus Colgate.

However what happens to embedded brands when we consider how much the marketplace and the consumer has evolved?

There is so much more to a brand promise today than there ever was before and there are so many more influences on choice.  Just think about how much the two little words “Eco” or “organic” have impacted the landscape for any myriad of products.

Subconsciously or not, brands are a representation of ourselves and as we as consumers continue to evolve and our sensibilities mature so too will our reliance on embedded brands.

What are your thoughts? What are other embedded brands?

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David Lubars Thinks You’re Dumb

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I belong to a group on LinkedIn called “Re-inventing the Advertising Agency Business Model”.

Here is where my advertising and marketing brethren pontificate on the future of advertising. In my mind it’s a useful exercise if only someone would actually do anything about it.

Lately, this issue is one of the most widely discussed topics in the marketing/advertising community. Forrester has several reports on the matter.  Fast Company is planning to dedicate the December/January issue to the “tumultuous state of advertising.” As a part of this issue they recently asked the three top creatives of three very different agencies to visually demonstrate the future of advertising.

David Lubars, BBDO’s chairman and chief creative officer said this, “Everything will continuously change, but people will always stay the same.  Go back 70 years, go ahead 50 years, a human is a human. There are primal things that will always drive us: Will this product be better, will it help me succeed, will it make me more attractive? So the technology and the way we to speak to people will change, but those fundamentals will never change.” How he visually represented this is pictured above.

Herein lies the disconnect between the consumer and marketers.

One of my previous blog posts was about the chaos that is today’s consumer marketplace. These days we can’t even agree whether or not to call ourselves consumers. Alex Bogusky wonders if the term is a dirty word. Grant McCracken offers the term “multipliers.” No matter what, they’re far more diverse, sophisticated and interesting than we’ve ever given them credit for.  And while we try various new means of reaching consumers such as geo-tagging, QR codes, harnessing viral and so forth, at the end of the day on the whole, we default to the same old same old.  No disrespect to David Lubars. I don’t even know the guy and am not so sure they’d let me in the building but the same old same old is generally what agencies like BBDO produce. Advertising to the lowest common denominator.

Don’t get me wrong, BBDO has done some amazing work and continues to do so and the sheer size of BBDO globally is beyond intimidating. Nevertheless all too often it seems like big agencies are in protectionist mode as the biggest purveyors of disruption marketing.

Every day, the 30-second spot is becoming less and less relevant. Commercials are background noise. Banner ads have become plain beige wallpaper.  Brian Morrissey recently pointed out that click through rates on banner ads have stabilized. Phew.  Good. At .09 percent. Ummm Houston… we have a problem.

Grant McCracken has a wonderful section in his book “Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living Breathing Corporation” where he refers to the “American scholar Lewis Mumford [who] offered his vision of the world created by commerce.” It looks something along the lines of the set of “The Truman Show”.  As McCracken says, “This became the intellectuals favorite thing to say about popular culture: that culture touched by commerce must be diminished by it,” when in fact the exact opposite has happened. So while Lubars would have you believe that we as consumers are primal and simple the reality is we have evolved considerably.  Sure there are ways to simplify explaining consumer purchase behavior but in general consumers are extraordinarily complex.

In Mark J. Penn’s book “Microtrends: Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes” he says, “With the availability of choice has come a rise in individuality. And with the rise of individuality has come a rise in the power of choice. The more choices people have, the more they segregate themselves into smaller and smaller niches of society.” In his book he offers glimpses into 82 of these “niches”. To me, that’s relatively daunting.

We talk about the notion of true change but the reality is we continue to produce mediocre dumbed-down work largely at the request of the client.

Agencies are still effectively layers upon layers of management with peer-to-peer alignment with clients.  That being said, clients haven’t asked for it to change much.  When the ads aren’t performing, fire the agency!

In my humble opinion it’s going to take CEO/CFO level leadership on the corporate side to force their CMOs and marketing organizations out of their comfort zones to explore agencies with new business models and to change the way in which they interact with those agencies and who takes responsibility for idea creation. And to consider bringing some of those people who generate ideas in-house.

I don’t think there is one standard “agency of the future”.  I think there will be numerous solutions providers who all find unique ways to solve client’s problems and I think the more flexible and nimble those types of “agencies” are the better they will succeed.

And in fact according to Fast Company, Kraft appears to be on the cusp of doing it.

“For the enterprising client that can see clearly through the chaos, this new world holds promise. Kraft, for instance, has assembled a growing Rolodex of 70 new specialist partners. This isn’t some fringe brand — it’s Kraft, the country’s largest food marketer, which spends some $1.6 billion on marketing every year. The company is so open to new thinking that it recently hired a startup called GeniusRocket to develop a new campaign for the relaunch of its Athenos Hummus.”

My bet is that agencies will look a lot more like production companies and content will be king. I am also betting that audience segmentation will be far less about traditional demographics (age/race/HHI) and will be more about lifestyle/lifestage/interests. As we know Facebook is betting most heavily on “groups” and I guarantee you they will mine the data of the largest groups and offer up “access” to the largest groups at a steep premium. Social media in general has proven itself as a place where people with like interests congregate irrelevant of race or household income but don’t think for a second the consumer isn’t hip to what’s going on. We as marketers must be respectful and creative as to how we segment consumers.

May the best content win.

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In Defense of Print

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One of my previous posts was about how we view written content via mobile devices. It got me to thinking about the debate of whether or not “print is dead?” This too is a question pondered by Stephanie (@stooffi) from the Penn-Olson blog and in which I’ve borrowed some points of data from. It’s also contemplated by Steve Laube in another excellent post.

They both share my sentiments that they don’t see print going the way of the dodo however we differ somewhat in our rationales. What I’d like to do here is offer some observational reasons as to why I think print isn’t dead to augment Stephanie and Steven’s very good more data driven arguments.

If you subscribed to conventional wisdom you might think that let’s say that within 10 years magazines would be ancient history with books to follow shortly behind them. You might think that certainly about newspapers and there is a decent case for that.

Jeff Gomez author of “Print is Dead” would have you think that we’re on the dawn of a print apocalypse.

Some quick stats to initially contradict those who firmly believe print is bound for extinction (from @stooffi via Sketchee):

  • 93% of adults in the U.S. read magazines
  • 96% of adults under 35 in the U.S. read magazines
  • Book sales are up 11.4%
  • Sales for higher-education publishing have increased 27.4%
  • E-book sales have increased 204% (keep in mind this is a category that didn’t exist a mere few years ago so I’d take that growth with a grain of salt)
  • 60% of consumers say they plan to purchase a tablet device within three years (what isn’t known is if they say they will purchase that device in place of a laptop)

Considering the data alone, I’m not so quick to put a nail in print’s coffin. With this being said, I’d like to offer a defense of print that is more observational relative to behavior/culture.

The first is case for print is that print is tactile.  People like tactile.  People comment on things like paper stock and gloss or matte finish with reverence.

The second is people like pictures. Big glossy, shiny, pretty pictures.

To be fair, I think it’s necessary to place a distinction on content that can be read versus content that can be viewed. The former would be lifestyle/niche magazines and the latter being more business, news and to some degree sports publications.

Logic would tell me that business, news and sports news magazines very well might have one foot in the grave because I think there’s a dramatic shift occurring in how people consume that type of content as my previous post “Where I’d like to read it” would suggest. As I write this, US News & World Report announced it is shuttering its print edition. And to add even further support this consider this recent article from clearly indicating that among smartphone users mobile is exactly how they like to consume.

However, I think we’re highly unlikely to see the demise of magazines entirely anytime soon. In fact in July 2010 there were 68 new magazine titles added versus 34 in July 2007. The difference is that most of the new titles were largely specialty magazines or magazines to serve a certain niche (often content to be viewed).

Consider a reason why? Have you been in a teenager’s room lately? If you’re looking at BOP or Tiger Beat online via an iPad, you can’t rip out the picture of Justin Bieber or Katy Perry and put it on your wall. Or rip a picture out from eurotuner of that sweet tuned BMW M3. Or the rad picture of Shaun White flying out of a half-pipe.

In addition, I believe a good amount of people still appreciate the “coffee table” book. This and certain magazines are a way we brand ourselves.  For many they’re forms of “decoration” carefully placed around the home.

Chief among the reasons I don’t see print as going away anytime soon is that we haven’t changed how the youngest learn to consume print. Yes, my two year old niece can take out her Dad’s iPad, turn it on, flip three screens and start a game but how she learns to consume print will likely not change anytime soon. In fact, recent research would suggest that college students haven’t taken to eReaders as expected. And this might be a logical place to begin to see a cultural shift.  I’m still not entirely sure we’ve crossed the chasm with eReaders/tablets. There I said it.

Granted my father-in-law is 74 and has had a Kindle since its inception. This inspired me to ask a few people with eReaders why they bought it.  Number one reason? Because they travel a lot and that way they don’t have to carry a physical book. Airport bookstores consider yourselves warned. However, this lumps those who purchase eReaders/tablets into a specific category. In this case the eReader fill a specific need that people are willing to change how they consume content.

I’ll offer one final example of how embedded the way we learn to consume written content is.

I have two daughters ages 7 and 4. The two of them participate in a program called the “Thousand Book Club”.

This is a program where at their elementary school there are some 200 bags of books.  Each bag has 10 children’s books. The goal of the program is to either read (or be read to) 1000 books by the time they finish kindergarten.  It’s a wonderful program as you might suspect but the point is that it’s a heavily quantitative experience with books.

At the end of the day we’ve only barely begun to change how we interact with written content and until that happens drastically, I don’t see print going away.

What do you think?

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Today, one can argue that the consumer marketplace is exceptional fractured. As a society we may do things in groups but what these groups look like has changed dramatically. Companies segment consumers all sort of ways but it generally involves falling back on household income, gender and race or ethnicity. For the purposes of any efficiency in marketing it is still required to find the greatest number of individuals to market to. But the reality is as most commercials will show, there’s really very little actual insight there.

Take a look at most commercials and they either simply push a product or play off a general consumer sentiment.  Beyond that there is usually very little there to actually connect with the consumer.

Not too long ago I was approached by the agency for New Era, the baseball hat and apparel company. They said that there was a flaw in their segmentation of customers and wanted help understanding what it was and perhaps a better way to segment their customers. They segmented them by “Urban”, “Suburban” and “Fan”. The flaw was simple. You could reside in suburbia, have urban sensibilities and be a fan. Furthermore it didn’t really tell you anything about their customers. We designed a segmentation based on how people wore their hats. The initial breakdown was as follows:

So how does this new possible segmentation inform?

It can inform in multiple ways.  It enables us to truly understand the consumer and what social groups they might belong to. Are they action sports kids? Maybe. But that’s not good enough. Because there are sub-cultures within action sports groups. Are they action sports hip-hop kids or action sports metal kids? BIG DIFFERENCE. Are they college frat boys? Are they girls? Are they “rad” girls or “bad” girls or “good”  girls or “emo” or “goth” girls or “preppy” girls?

If you map the types of hats to sales you can identify patterns or anomalies that will heavily dictate what and how much product you might supply to various retailers. You can identify where you might participate in or sponsor events. You can identify which radio stations you might advertise on or if you do at all.  The insights and variables are virtually endless.

As the consumer landscape becomes increasingly fragmented, it’s not something to be scared of or intimidated by but it is necessary to get out of your traditional comfort zone and start being creative with understanding your customers. And funny thing is, the more you actually show that you truly understand your customer, the greater loyalty you will inspire.

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Recently I was having a conversation with a colleague. She’s a director of marketing at a large .com enterprise. We’ll call her Julie.

She was describing to me how hard her job is these days and how little confidence she has in decision making.

When I look at advertising today and most marketing for that matter I believe that this is a sentiment shared by many a CMO/Director of Marketing.

We’d like to say there is tremendous innovation going on but if I’m not mistaken, didn’t the Super Bowl ads sell out a full three months ahead of schedule this year?

If you live in places like New England, around this time of year you’re faced with having to deal with leaves.  The once beautiful foliage is now dispersed all over your yard and to preserve your green grass you’re advised to do something with it. Techniques vary, my personal favorite is to pay someone else to deal with it but my wife has frugal sensibilities and thus there I am on a lovely Sunday with this 2-stroke contraption strapped to my back known as a leaf blower. This is hardly a precision instrument but useful.

As leaves are flying about it dawned on me, this is what Julie was talking about. This is what consumer marketing has become. An exercise in trying to corral leaves.

Once upon a time, they sat on trees and were easily categorized. Oak, Maple, Redwood, Japanese Maple and so on.

But then they all changed colors, fell to the ground and there was no order anymore.

And so is the job of anyone who works in marketing these days. To try and create a natural, efficient and sensible order to the chaos of these leaves being blown amok.

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Is “Customer Service” Marketing?

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So this is hardly a new topic but I thought I’d throw my two cents in there after an experience at an AT&T store the other day.

I was in need of a new phone but I had been avoiding going to AT&T because I wasn’t sure if I was eligible for an upgrade and didn’t want to pay full price for a phone. I was avoiding the store because I didn’t want to have a fight about being an AT&T customer for the better part of 12 years and why couldn’t they give me the promotional price for a new BlackBerry Torch.

I was avoiding the store to AVOID customer service.

However being at my wits end with my failing phone, I put my head down and headed in. Fortunately I was eligible for an upgrade and actually had a very good customer experience.

The same can’t be said for the lady next to me however. This poor woman was from another state visiting a sick relative in the hospital. Her phone died and being unable to fix it and having no contact with home she came into the store. The staff at the store was also unable to fix it and said she would need a new phone but she was two months and a day away from being eligible for an upgrade and thus would have to pay full price ($220) to replace her phone.

As my lovely sales agent was getting me all set with my new phone I stood there and listened to this woman exasperated deal with two sales agents and one customer service representative on the phone to lobby to be granted an exclusion to get a new phone. Ultimately she was given a new phone with a new contract but what it took to get there seems preposterous.

I went into the AT&T store fully ready to take my business to Verizon and although I left moderately pleased, I still left with an overall negative impression.

Folks. Customer service IS your brand.

Is “customer service,” marketing? You’re damn right it is.

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