Archive for the ‘The Marketing Microscope’ 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 »


Businesses: it’s not called “In Your Face-book.”

In Ad Creative, Social Media, The Marketing Microscope on May 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Just read a very interesting  post over on the Hubspot blog reporting results of a bit of Facebook research into what types of Facebook posts collect the most audience response, or “engagement’ as we like to call it.  I find this a fascinating area, since so many companies approach it so many different ways.

To me, the research suggests that the best path (or at least the one most likely to engage) is to employ posts that relate to your business or product without blatantly selling it.  That means businesses should avoid the “Hey, everyone, here’s our new RX-7 paint mixing technology. Order today”  (because it’s not very interesting).  And they should also avoid the other extreme, which has NO real content and suggests the existence of a personal relationship: “Pouring here. Is it raining where you live?

But even that middle ground – the one most likely to “work” – can be problematic. I’ve written about a couple of companies I consider to be prime offenders. Radio Shack is one – I remember a post that asked readers to weigh in with (something like) “Tell us the last time you watched someone build something with stuff purchased at Radio Shack.”  Gag. Anyone who responded to that post clearly needs more to do.

Another company, GFS (a wholesale foodservice supplier with numerous retail outlets – a good company, in my experience), seems blissfully ignorant of its self-serving transparency.  Many of its posts follow the pattern of asking such innocent and thought-provoking questions like  “Which of our wonderful soups do YOU like best?” Or even worse, THIS one:

Yes, this was real!

I’m sure these companies will think that the research confirms their course of action.  And yes, I imagine a few lonely folks did, in fact, find themselves “engaged” by these tactics. But for me, I’m a little more comfortable with an outfitter, for example, inviting stories of “the best canoe trip ever” or a travel site posting helpful hints or memorable flight attendant moments.

Bottom line is that it’s a delicate balance, and to me, a ham-fisted attempt can do more damage than anything. Tell me about a product – that’s fine. I may not be interested, but you’re being honest. But don’t play me for a lonesome loser who has nothing better to do than shill for you. That, I definitely don’t  “LIKE.”

Etch-a-Sketch knows what’s shaking!

In Ad Creative, Memorable Marketing, The Marketing Microscope on April 5, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Personal confession here: I LOVE this kind of marketing. I am always very impressed when I see a marketer seize an appropriate moment in time to generate some buzz and hopefully, some fun built around a timely occurrence in pop culture, politics, whatever.  And do it well.

Ohio Art, with its beloved timeless Etch a Sketch toy, has done just that. An article here on MediaPost News gives the full details. But to summarize, they’ve done some very clever things to capitalize on a recent comment from a Romney adviser that generated plenty of reaction from opponents.

They’ve struck just the right chord in their efforts to play off the event, referencing how (in terms of their toy, of course) there’s a left and right, but things work best when they work together. And the end message is an encouragement to vote! All very positive and upbeat, with no real political lines being drawn (sorry). You can, of course, buy a red or blue Etch a Sketch, if you must.

And the whole affair is built to deliver the people touched by social media to their redesigned website! Great marketing, and great fun – (Etch a) Sketch comedy, if you will. Way to go, Ohio Arts. More fun than a Barrel of Monkeys. (Uh, no offense, Milton Bradley.)

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!

Quaker State promo either brilliant or silly. YOU decide!

In Memorable Marketing, The Marketing Microscope on June 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Simple. Start using Quaker State when you get your car’s oil changed for the first time, keep using Quaker State throughout its life, and drive it until you hit the magic 300,000-mile mark. Then, voila – QS will give you a check for the Bluebook value of your car. Not  to BUY it from you, just a reward, in the form of a check for whatever it’s worth at that point. That’s the whole promotion.

The positives? For consumers, it offers a little extra dough, though not much and only after a LONG while – just for choosing one brand of oil consistently, which probably doesn’t matter very much to them. For  Quaker State,  it reinforces the perception that the product helps your car last longer, so it’s “on strategy.” And it doesn’t risk much, since  very few people will keep one car that long, and 300,000-mile cars tend not to be worth much anyway. People who DO are the dedicated car buffs, and if it helps them choose Quaker State each time, that’s great.

The negatives? Well, for one thing, most people realize all the things I just said. And they just might roll their eyes and say,gee, my reward for driving this hunk of junk that long is whatever pittance someone says it’s worth at that point? BIG DEAL.

So I can’t decide. It makes strategic sense, but it is so low-risk for the company, how exciting can it be for customers? I suspect they could have offered a new car (okay, up to $20k) for anyone who made it.  Or why not make it 400,000 and give them an exciting new sports car, or vintage Corvette or something.

Bottom line is, I like things that are different enough to be interesting, and somehow relate to the selling premise. Both those apply here. But somehow it just aims so low…..

What do YOU think? Let me know. Hey, if we make it to 10 comments, I’ll give the poster of comment # 30 a great prize!  (A quart of Quaker State. And a plastic funnel I’ll guarantee for, oh  your next 100 oil changes!))

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.

The Shack misses the social media point.

In Social Media, The Marketing Microscope on March 24, 2011 at 4:41 pm
Small issue, today, but I think a pretty relevant one for those of us in marketing.
We all know companies are hurrying to capitalize on social media as best they can. Fortunately, most seem to know the environment won’t look kindly upon heavy-handed (ham-fisted) efforts to sell. Most, but apparently not Radio Shack. Their latest Facebook effort has all the sincerity of the  “how are you doing today?” you get from a telemarketer at the opening of his spiel. Here’s what I encountered:

What’s the coolest thing you’ve built or seen built from stuff at RadioShack? We liked this one and this one and this one

Start posting your links, photos and vids now!

I don’t know about you, of course, but  I haven’t spent a great deal of time building “things” out of “stuff from Radio Shack.”  ( I’ve also not lived in my mom’s  basement for  quite a while.) And you can count the number of times I’ve watched others “build things with stuff from Radio Shack” on, well, no hands.
Perhaps a few people might be intrigued enough to click, in hopes of seeing some Rube Goldberg device. And the Shack might believe that many electronics geeks –likely their best customers — will, so they don’t care what the rest of us think.
But the world of social media is different, and the presence of  transparent efforts like this lowers the tide for all of us. It makes every user a little more jaded and a little less willing to participate in any marketer-led interaction. thereby punishing those that do attempt to really fit in, be engaging, or at least mind their marketing manners.
I can hardly wait till these things snowball to the next logical extreme: “Hey, everybody! Count how many slick new 2011 Ford Fusions you see today, and post the number here! And don’t forget the  pictures and videos!” Or: “FLASH MOB AT CEDAR POINT TODAY AT 3:00 pm -just inside the main gate where you pay!”
If this Facebook entry is typical of the “stuff ” we’re going to get from Radio Shack, then I suspect all it will really build is animosity.

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 »

Snooty “The Ladders” spot does the job for job-seekers.

In Ad Creative, The Marketing Microscope on April 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Marketing has changed a lot since the ‘Excuse me – would you have a little Grey Poupon?” days. For those of you too young to remember, that’s from a classic commercial attempting to class up the Grey Poupon image. For one thing, the general trend has been to make snobbery a little less fashionable. For another, the past few years of economic pain has managed to disqualify a great many of us as snobs.

But for certain products,  elitism still makes good sense.  One great example is a currently-airing  spot for The Ladders, an executive search and recruitment firm and Web site specializing in jobs paying $100,000 plus or more.  In the spot, two people playing a civil game of tennis are overwhelmed by “the great unwashed” pouring out of the stands and elbowing aside the original participants. The newcomers are made to look foolish, falling down, mishitting balls badly, and looking totally inept – clearly out of their depth.

The spot makes the obvious analogy, equating those people to the mob of mediocre job applicants who flood prospective employers with their inferior submissions, making it more difficult for your very qualified application to be noticed. Haughty? Demeaning? Yes. Exactly. And The Ladders doesn’t care one bit, since if you consider yourself among the demeaned, you have already disqualified yourself as a Ladders prospect. Perfect self-selection. If there’s any hope for you at all, you identify more with the original tennis players who are the victims here.

It may not be “nice” to disparage the rank-and-file job seeker in this manner. But Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s the scoop: local PR events can be pretty tasty!

In Memorable Marketing, The Marketing Microscope on March 11, 2010 at 5:04 pm

In the midst of national public relations issues that show no signs of, uh, slowing down (sorry, Toyota), it’s easy to miss the small PR victories being earned for products and services in local and regional markets across the country.

Hudsonville Ice Cream is sold in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana – but it has achieved mildly iconic status on its West Michigan home turf.  And I noticed an article about an upcoming event for the company that made me smile and realize that, once again, being true to your brand and your roots is the only real way to go. This post from describes the interesting manner in which the company will introduce 12 new flavors at an event called “the Coolest Taste to Share Extravaganza.”  I don’t love the title, but hey, even its “clunkiness” feels right for Hudsonville’s small-town personality.

On March 27, the company will open its factory doors for only two  hours or so, and admit guests – limited by space to 500. Those guests will pay $10 each for the privilege of seeing the ice-cream-making process up close and delicious, and will be the very first lucky customers to sample the new flavors, which will be revealed one at a time at eight-minute intervals.

And one of the best aspects of all this – and where the “share” part of the title comes in – is that all proceeds go to an organization called  Kids Food Basket. The group serves an evening meal each weekday Read the rest of this entry »