Archive for the ‘Just Thinkin'’ Category

Product placement comes with a cost. Does product MISplacement?

In Just Thinkin', The Marketing Microscope on November 29, 2012 at 1:29 am

I came across an interesting item today- a  column by Priska Neely  from the NPR website. It  addresses the issue of product placement, but includes the “down side” you don’t often see.

It is no longer a surprise to anyone that companies pay big bucks to get visual exposure for their brands in popular movies and television shows. One of the most often-cited examples is American Idol;  it started with simple Coke cups on the table in front of each judge, but has progressed to the point where the show sometimes appears to be taking place inside one big, glitzy Coke machine.

It’s certainly an interesting topic. Quick quiz – can you remember the type of candy Kramer was eating when he dropped a piece from the observation balcony over an operating room and it wound up inside the patient? (First correct response wins a package of that candy from me!)  What brand of vehicle did Jack Bauer drive during all those seasons of “24” ?  (First correct response on THAT one will have to settle for a hearty “attaboy.”)

The reasoning is obvious; what brand wouldn’t want to be the “hero”  or at least bask in the glow of a cool scenario. But what about those scenes in which the pictured products are less than heroic? As the article points out, producers are largely free to use any branded products they wish without getting any special permission from the company.  Do you want YOUR brand to be the alcohol of choice for a drinking airline pilot?  How about a closeup of your chainsaw brand in the next slasher movie?

I find the whole topic fascinating; I have been in advertising long enough Read the rest of this entry »


NBC to misguided critics: “#scoreboard!”

In Just Thinkin', Social Media on August 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Years ago, Major League Baseball took lots of grief for scheduling All Star and World Series games in the evening. Out came the usual objections – “kids can’t stay up that late” or “baseball belongs in the daytime.”  But the simple truth is that then, as now, most people have day jobs. They can actually watch the game if it’s played at night. Higher ratings meant it was the right decision for more fans, period.

So let’s jump ahead to what’s happening now with the London Olympics.

Many people, of course, believe that NBC-TV’s tactic of delaying broadcasts of key events until “prime time” to pump ratings is some sort of subterfuge, turning that five-ring logo into a three-ring circus.  But those critics – who probably include  you –  are  simply wrong. (No offense!)

NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus was quoted in  Sports Business Daily as saying: “It’s not everyone’s inalienable right to get whatever they want.” This infuriated plenty of people, apparently. Me? I wanted to buy him a beer. It’s not merely that the American TV public is spoiled (though it is).  It is simply the fact that millions of complainers are- as my favorite cartoonist used to label some of his panels –  “people unclear on the concept.”

NBC is not here, in this case, to bring you the news. If all  you want is to know WHAT happened as quickly as possible, you have dozens of cable channels and thousands Read the rest of this entry »

New respect for advertising in Groupon horror stories!

In Just Thinkin', The Marketing Microscope on November 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I came across an interesting post at discussing the electronic coupon voucher program Groupon.  Apparently, the tough economy and stiff Groupon pricing requirements are putting a squeeze on some small businesses, who feel they have to try it, but wind up getting buried, losing money, and regretting the decision.

In one example, a London bakery owner was really, well, frosted when she was forced to hire extra help to bake 102,000 cupcakes to satisfy the Groupon demand, and wiped out her year’s profit in the process. Some surveys cited in the story claim that 70% of small businesses “hate” Groupons!

One has to make all kinds of wild assumptions to draw conclusions on this, of course, but I have seen claims (even by business owners themselves) that had they invested the same money in advertising instead, they could have drawn enough new customers at full or nearly full price to deliver more incremental profit, and have a better chance of converting new customers into loyal, long-term ones.

I find this a fascinating discussion. It seems intuitive that Groupon users (and I’m not talking down here – I have used them and will continue to do so) are looking for deals. And unless you really present some incredible experience during their visit, they are likely to go somewhere else to use another deal rather than come back to your establishment and pay full price next time.   On the other hand, as some point out, it is your job as a business owner to provide them an experience special enough to change that equation.

I agree with both positions. (I KNEW I should have gone into politics.) I do know that, as a consumer, I feel a bit awkward when using Groupons, although I know it was the merchant’s decision to offer them. As an advertising professional, I feel as though the discussion is a bit “apples and oranges.”  A well-strategized ad campaign (based on a real point of difference that matters to the consumer, of course) is the best way to attract the kinds of customers you are most likely to keep. A Groupon-type promotion is likely to generate larger numbers of customers in the first place, but most of them will continue to ignore your business as they did before once they’ve gotten their “deal.”

It’s just a very intriguing discussion. What do you think?  Is the answer a Groupon “Light” service that offers a bit less of a deal so business don’t risk bankruptcy when they try it? Would a different type of promotion – or advertising – attract the customers who are willing and able to spend the money your product or service is worth in the first place, for a better chance at long-term success or survival?

Let me know what YOU think about the whole thing – I’d really like to know!  And for the next 14 days, I will allow you to post two comments for the price of one!

Scooping out smiles again.

In Just Thinkin', Memorable Marketing on July 12, 2011 at 8:37 am

Driving to work Monday morning, I passed a small convoy of  brightly adorned vehicles from Hudsonville Ice Cream. It made me smile, as I imagined them on their way to some special ice cream “event”  of the kind I’ve mentioned here before. It was a little ice cream party waiting to happen. This time, as I later learned, they were headed for a celebration for 3,000 Whirlpool employees, honoring their participation in a Habitat for Humanity project – so it was a well-deserved reward.

Hudsonville has mastered the art of keeping customers (and bystanders) smiling. Looking into what they had done lately, I noticed that they had given new Michigan governor Rick Snyder a tour, and named a couple new Michigan-themed flavors in honor of the occasion, including Michigan Mitten Sundae.

The governor and "Chief Flavor Developer" Ken Filippini

I continue to enjoy the spirit Hudsonville Ice Cream manages to display consistently throughout its marketing and promotional activities. Sure, it’s a business, and it’s a logical way for them to behave, given their product category. But lots of companies could take a lesson from them in identifying the appropriate personality, and striving to live up to it.

Passing those brightly-decorated vehicles this morning perked up my mood, even without benefit of the product  (which would have come in handy even at 7 a.m on such a hot day). As I passed, I did look into one of the vehicles, and the driver was a nice young woman who was, of course, smiling. Now, maybe it was from something she had just heard on the radio, or some random thought.

But somehow, since it was a vehicle from Hudsonville, it seemed right. It’s what I would have expected. And that fact is not a bad indicator of a company building a brand and living it.

Keep up the good (and cool) work!

A little neighborly advice for State Farm.

In Ad Creative, Just Thinkin' on June 28, 2011 at 12:02 am

Insurance can be a tough sell. And the “old gray ladies” of the biz like Allstate and State Farm can be excused if they are a little desperate in their desire to stop losing share to the Geicos, and Progressives of the world.  For a product no one ever wants to actually have to USE, it’s tough to beat a good price story, especially when it’s built around internet or phone call convenience.

But it seems to me Allstate and State Farm are both are trying to tackle the “younger customer” with what they consider edgier or hipper campaigns. Allstate’s “mayhem” is growing on me. And the other night, I saw Dennis Haysbert use that word in an attempt, at least, to tie their two very different campaigns together.

State Farm, however, is a little lost. They continue to run their traditional “adult’ campaign that, while not exciting, at least rings true, tugs at the right strings, and provides a pretty straight ahead “demo” of the company’s famous tag line.

Not so in their “youth” campaigns. It appears their only strategy here was “let’s put some young people and millenial story lines in our spots, then they’ll think we’re cool and buy from us.” Sorry, but I am not convinced that some slacker saying “State Farm is there” in order to get the girl from  the apartment upstairs or a new hot tub to materialize says anything meaningful about your product. Nor does the mean-spirited boyfriend/girlfriend tiff featured in another execution.

Yes, you need to appeal to a younger demographic. But does someone who is  finally accepting the responsibility to purchase insurance really willing to buy it from a big name company that is suddenly trying to look like the life of the toga party? (An even newer campaign appears to depict State Farm customers as deranged goofs who would squander the money they supposedly saved on things like falcons. Another knee-slapper.)

State Farm, I know you need to appeal to a younger demo. But a closer look at what those people really think and feel would do far more for the brand than lobbing superficial executions in the general direction of the caricatured image you apparently have of them.

Insurance may not be fun. But it is most assuredly not silly, either. And a campy Bob Barker appearance is no substitute for a real point of difference.

You can’t measure “return on relationship.”

In Agency Biz, Just Thinkin', The Marketing Microscope on May 25, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Attention all you metric mavens out there. In this economy and business climate, I understand a little tendency toward desperation. When you’ve got bills to pay, it’s logical to want an almost instant return on any time, money or other resources you invest in your business. But “logical” isn’t always the same as “smart.”

I just read a wonderful post on the subject by Amber Naslund over at her Brass Tack Thinking blog. She talks about the need to build all your networks before you “need” them. Create and grow your relationships when the only payback is the relationship itself, not a virtual filing cabinet with the many ways the other party can help you get money, business, a job or whatever-  preferably soon.  ROI doesn’t stand for Return on Insensitivity.

Clearly, this discussion is relevant given the attention and special status so many of us marketers are conferring on social media as a marketing channel. We smugly congratulate one another on recognizing the need for two-way dialogue and claim to be comfortable with the fact that we don’t lead many of the discussions any longer. Then someone gets impatient with all that warm, fuzzy stuff and talks about “monetizing” the process. Sigh.

I don’t really think this is about social media at all. Remember the marketing people whose obvious self-absorption and thirst for profit drove you crazy pre-Twitter and even pre-Internet? Those are the same people who are now either driving potential customers away with transparent  efforts in “new media” or staying out of the social media discussion entirely since they don’t have the mindset to accept a payback that isn’t guaranteed to happen at all, let alone quickly. (That doesn’t make it a bad investment – just one they can’t understand.)

Yes, I’m very aware that businesses must manage their resources efficiently and don’t like the idea of paying people to “schmooze” or cyber-surf with no apparent end game. But unless you’re the low-price leader and can get all the business you need by sending out price lists, you’d better learn to deal with it. Whether it’s a potential client, employer, strategic business partner or a potential customer, they’re only human – and if they weren’t important back when you didn’t need them, they won’t have much  use for you when you do.  Marketing is suddenly very human. And I find that a very good thing.

Veteran’s Day. Celebrate it because you don’t have to.

In Just Thinkin' on November 10, 2010 at 7:15 pm

While listening to my favorite sports talk show this morning (Mike and Mike on ESPN), Mike Greenburg mentioned in passing that at  flag-rising ceremonies, like the Olympics,  “you just get a lump in  your throat.”  He’s right. I do. And I think that’s wonderful. It’s always a good excuse to take that big step backward that we all need from time to time to remember that, for all its faults, there’s no place in the world we’d rather live.

Lord knows, we have plenty of divisions to deal with, and plenty of topics that pit some of us against others of us. If we tried to count them, we’d be here all day: politics, government, global warming, Wall Street, health insurance, welfare, hunting, SUVs, cell phones, texting, reality TV, talk radio, smoking, PBS, marijuana, bad driving,  Happy Meals, Michael Vick, Nancy Pelosi, Brett Favre, Rush Limbaugh – add your own 10 or 20 here.

And we have plenty of things about us that seem to provide the world reasons to disapprove of our culture, like our wretched excesses and banal preoccupations (like Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashians). But once  you take that big step back -isn’t it wonderful that we are so big…so open…so diverse that we can have all those differences, and pursue all those obsessions, without killing one another over them?

Being “American” isn’t the least common denominator. It’s the best one. I believe it’s that great big “melting pot” thing that keeps us, more or less, moving down a nice, centered path. Extremists can be heard, but seldom win the day. Together, we’re too smart for that. In this great big tug-of-war we’re involved in, the knot may move back and forth, but it stays pretty much over the mud puddle, and no one loses. We always self-correct, eventually. And that keeps happening because of our unique system of government, our culture, and yes, even our Read the rest of this entry »

The best public relations “crisis plan”- have a good image to begin with!

In Just Thinkin', The Marketing Microscope on June 8, 2010 at 6:55 pm

For years, those of of us who work in (or teach) marketing communications have been relying upon a few aging case histories of public relations disasters. Our moldy old textbooks have presented the Tylenol “tainted capsule” deaths in Chicago as an example of a company handling things quite well. The Exxon Valdez oil spill, however, has wallowed around in the “what not to do” end of that spectrum.

Recently – and unfortunately – we’ve come up with some marvelous new candidates we can use to update those textbooks. Do the names “Toyota” or “BP” ring any bells?

I don’t for a moment claim that either of those situations is done; obviously they are not. But I’ve seen plenty of Toyota’s “we’re working hard to fix things” commercials. And that Tony Blair-ish CEO from BP  is on TV more often than Two-and-a-Half Men, and seems every bit as sincere as Charlie Sheen’s character in that sitcom.

But as I watch those damage-control  efforts, it strikes me that whatever they say, it’s a little too late. The public’s opinion about these companies was largely formed long before either of these situations hit the news. And that’s why Toyota is already enjoying sales boosts again, while BP continues to dominate the headlines.

I did not do this research, but wish I had. Let’s say a year ago, you asked 100 people what they thought about each company. I’m quite convinced that the general opinion of Toyota would have been something like this (excluding those still guided by general anti-Japanese, buy-American sentiments):

“They sure make dependable cars, if not very exciting ones. I wish American car makers could really get the quality down like that, but they just can’t seem to do it. I guess if I wanted a car that would last longer, have good resale value, and not spend much time in the shop, I’d go with Toyota.”

For BP, my guess is the composite answer would be something like this: Read the rest of this entry »

Attention advertisers: bank robberies aren’t funny.

In Ad Creative, Just Thinkin' on January 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Sorry to depart from my usual good humor today. Bear with me, THAT Mike will be back soon. But today, I’ve had it. First it was E-Trade a while back, portraying how banks treat their customers. Then Jimmy John’s. Now Direct TV. If this makes me the “grumpy old man” of the marketing world, so be it, but here goes: enough already with the bank robberies.

There’s NOTHING funny about people being ordered to the floor by angry, shouting thugs bearing guns. NOTHING. Life has enough stresses – and Lord knows, enough very real people have been terrorized and yes, even killed, when these scenes play out in real life.

Maybe those sheltered  young ad agency creatives haven’t spent much time in banks, with their over-sized paychecks being direct-deposited and their cash needs handled nicely by the ATMs positioned conveniently adjacent to their Starbucks-and-sushi lifestyles.

What’s next?  Some witty repartee about backpacks at the scene of a school shooting, or maybe a hip young officer mourning the damage to a Beamer involved in a drunk driving fatality?

If you creatives are unable to recognize poor taste when you see it, how about if you just think of something else just because the bank robbery idea is trite? (I’ll take what I can get.) And advertisers, if your agency brings you a concept like this, I will be happy to supply a better alternative, free of charge, in 24 hours or less.

Prime time may be dominated by CSI: Wherever,  but there’s more to our world than that. And there certainly ought to be more to our advertising.

At least it had a “mini-bar.”

In Just Thinkin', Memorable Marketing on December 2, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Okay, I’m afraid I’m going to have to go “Andy Rooney” today and talk about something that gets…and probably deserves…little attention. You often hear jokes or quips about “stealing the shampoo” from the hotel, or people who seem to live off the little individual-serve amenities that come with stays at most hotels.

I empathize with hotels. I know those little things can’t cost much, especially in light of the lofty room rates. But put yourself in their position. What is the best way to show guests a good, comfortable stay, but minimize waste along the way?

This issue reappeared on my “radar” recently when I was making a long cross-country drive, and was determined to rest for the night in the least-expensive accommodations I could find, short of parking amidst the semis at a truck stop and sleeping in the car.

Well, I found an inexpensive one, all right.  (All relative, of course…it was still painful to think of the other things I could have done with the money if I had driven straight on through, instead.) And I won’t go into detail about the place itself.  I’m not a snooty person, but I assume bullet-proof glass is there for a reason. 

Anyway, when I approached the sink in the guest room, I was a little surprised to see a postage stamp. When I turned on the light, I noticed, of course, that it was really the bar of soap! (I’ve included a picture of it, with my cell phone for size reference.) And it’s thin enough to fit through the coin slot in your average piggy bank. Read the rest of this entry »