The Freemium Option Better For Video Sites?

TV2

This week, I am writing a three-part series about business models for online video websites. Sites are changing. Online business is changing. Video is blowing up.

It's time we really thought about the best way to profit from creating and displaying video, while providing the best experience for the user.

Let's get to it.

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What's A Hulu Subscription Look Like?

In recent days, Hulu – the NBC/Fox/ABC-backed video site – released and then recanted news that it intended to charge for service via News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey.

Carey said that Hulu would need to incorporate a "meaningful subscription model as part of its business." But he didn’t go into any more detail than that.

Most pundits assumed this meant a firewall-blocked subscription model in the works – a slightly backwards-looking model that succeeds best in scarcity: scarcity of quality content and scarcity in access.

But we don't live in that world anymore. The online channel has tons of quality content and most content creators/publishers are tripping over themselves to provide online access to their work.

The old version of a subscription model would be met with great hostility considering 1) there is no lack of free video content online and 2) it reeks of a bait-and-switch to start charging for something that had already been totally free.

So how can Hulu make money?

The New Creativity

I had already been thinking about this in my review of old business models (easily or not-so-easily) moving into the digital space. I detailed the changing business models in my post Why The New Creativity Changes Everything.

I advocated what Joseph Jaffe dubbed "The New Creativity" in The Beancast episode #76 around minutes 37-38. The short version is this:

  • The old creativity was centered around innovative ways that advertisers and marketers could loudly/rudely/creatively interrupt a consumer's day in order to push their brand message.
  • The new creativity requires that the advertiser or marketer create an experience so compelling that consumers share it amongst their peer groups.

So, instead of a one-way marketer-to-consumer system, we now have a system where marketers try to influence the influencers, while also realizing that they are in a dialogue with all consumers and potential consumers as well.

Sounds simple, right? It helps explain why we’ve seen the boom in things like social media marketing and the downward trend in direct marketing and TV/radio ads.

The "Freemium" Option

If Hulu is to succeed, especially when in direct competition to Google-owned YouTube, it needs to be nimble and creative. They need to think beyond non-contextual ads and firewalled content.

Largely embraced by social networking sites, a freemium business model hasn’t been adopted by many larger, more traditional companies. But it has the potential to provide a great customer experience and differentiate Hulu from well-known competitors.

A recent eMarketer study reported on an Abrams Research survey in which social media leaders were asked the best way to monetize social media (note: it doesn't say how they determined who was a "social media leader," but just go with me for a second).

The most popular answer? 45.5% of respondents answered that a freemium model would be most profitable – more than double the next most popular response.

Chris Anderson defines a freemium business model in The Long Tail:

"Already, one of the most common business models on the Internet…is to attract lots of users with a free service and convince some of them to upgrade to a subscription-based 'premium' one that adds higher quality or better features."

It is roughly a business where most of the basic services are free, but a percentage of uses pay for more/better/quicker elements of that basic package.

Flickr is a common example. Anyone in the world can start an account and upload 100MB of photos and 2 videos per month. This satisfies a great (happy) majority. However, a "Pro" account provides unlimited uploads, archiving, high-res options, and expanded groups.

The key is that the paying customers – the committed 10% let’s say – cover the cost of the 90% using a basic service for free.

A freemium model isn’t for every business. It favors businesses that are tech-centric, start-up/new, agile, and almost exclusively offering an online service. But what model could be more perfect for the era of social networks?

Let's See It In Action

Tomorrow, I will outline seven ways Hulu could package technology they already have into a freemium model users would willing pay for (heck, I sure would).

Sites like Hulu, facing competition from Google and a number of start-ups, will need to be nimble and smart. I hope you join us tomorrow to gauge for yourself whether my suggestions would be worthwhile for sites like Hulu.

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Is Marketing Starting To Tone Down?

Brawndo

I saw this 5 hour energy commercial a couple weeks ago and can't stop thinking about it. It illustrates a trend I've noticed, but I am curious if you have too.

The commercial spoofs the type of young, skateboarding, scruffy-haired, Jeff Spicoli meets Sean White meets Andrew WK soda drinkers. 5 hour energy makes a convincing case by being the staid older brother - more able to make a smart decision about his choice of beverage.

It made me think - is marketing finding a better ROI by toning down the rhetoric? Are they gaining by using logic instead of screaming?

I don't know if you've watched Ideocracy lately, but Brawndo seems even more ridiculous than it did a few years ago. It was always a parody, but now it feel like a parody beyond its time.

Maybe it's the recession. Maybe it's a move from TV to online. Maybe people just got sick of commercial pitchmen who sounded like drag racing promoters (Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!).

Do you agree that marketing is starting to tone it down?

Try Angie's List Today!

Let's take a less adrenalin-prone product than energy drinks. Perhaps the most mundane is toothpaste.

I noticed a change in toothpaste packaging as well. A few years ago, it was all about which one could make your teeth the whitest. It was about the surficial beauty, the EXTREME clean.

Have you seen the way toothpaste is marketed today? The design colors are much cooler. They've swapped "extreme" for "total." There is an emphasis on health, rather than beauty. Check it out:

Toothpaste

Am I just creating patterns where none exist or are we seeing a shift in priorities? Is volume of message being replaced by quality of message? I have no scientific studies to back this up; it's just something I've been noticing and wondering if you have as well.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Feel free to use the comment area below to share your thoughts with the community.

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Marketing During A Recession E-Book

After many weeks of work, I am proud to release a new e-book: Marketing During A Recession: Economic Slowdowns Are Opportunities (PDF)

We're all worried about how the recession will effect us and our business. But there are a lot of misconceptions and downright mistakes about how to use marketing during this recession. This e-book draws from expert advice and provides you a path forward in these difficult times.

Please download it or check it out on SlideShare. (It's free, of course.)

I got some great help from Joann Sondy, a designer in the online community - she's the reason this e-book looks so much better than my previous ones. She was great to work with and knew the best design strategy for this particular material.

Consider hiring Joann for your next project. You can check out her portfolio at CreativeAces.com (seriously, have your annual reports ever looked this good?) and read her blog at OutsideTheMargin.biz. Some more information about her work is below:

Joann Sondy has an extensive background creating and delivering corporate materials for financial and investor relations. With more than 15 years, Joann has produced distinctive communications that help IR/PR agencies build audience awareness and confidence. If your strategy calls for a presentation, e-book, white paper, fact sheet and/or annual report, contact Joann today. joann{at}creativeaces{dot}dom or DM her via Twitter: @jsondy.

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Copywriters: Killers, Poets, Nerds, Or Something Else?

joshcarnival

I was figuratively punched in the gut by one part of Joshua Ferris' And Then We Came To The End, a book I highly recommend to anyone already in or considering a job in advertising or marketing.

Several characters in the book are copywriters, a title that has been present on my business cards, from time to time. Copywriters aren't just characters in the book, they're often characters, themselves.

Copywriters are often an interesting group. Well-read, imaginative, delightful at cocktail parties - it's practically written into the job description.

Baby, You're A Killer

And maybe it's imagination that allows us to create personas about ourselves. We are people who sit in offices, but frequently imagine ourselves as much, much more.

Consider this excerpt from Ferris' novel:

"'What's your idea?' asked Joe.

Her idea? We'll tell you her idea, Joe. To slaughter. Nobody talks about it, nobody says a word, but the real engine running the [advertising agency] is the primal desire to kill. To be the best ad person in the building, to inspire jealousy, to defeat all the rest. The threat of layoffs just made it a more efficient machine [page 109]."

Writers as killers? It might seem like a stretch, but consider this from On Advertising by David Ogilvy, father of one of the most successful advertising agencies ever and constant advocate of good copywriters:

"'Most good copywriters' says William Maynard of the Bates agency, 'fall into two categories. Poets. And killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers as a means to an end.' If you are both killer and poet, you get rich [page 32]."

Now, we're killers and poets? And we still wear ties?

Or Really Just Nerds?

And yet, something struck me about this quote from Almost Famous in which two writers are discussing their place in the world:

Lester Bangs: They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.

William Miller: I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn't.

Lester Bangs: That's because we're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter. ...The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool.

So Which Is It?

Personally, I can see all of them. Advertising and marketing agencies are highly creative, highly political, highly charged environments. So it's understandable to put yourself in any of these roles (sometimes all of them in a single day!).

What do you think? Which is most accurate metaphor for copywriters? Is it killer, poet, nerd, or something else? I anticipate your answers in the comments section below.

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Super Bowl 2009 Ads - Social Media Engagement In The Second Half

tigers-win

As you've probably read, I am reporting on social media engagement during Super Bowl 43. Here are the results from the first half. Let's get right into the second half here:

  • Coke (Avatars): No engagement
  • Bridgestone (Jump around): URL (Bridgestone.com) - very small font
  • Denny's (Serious Breakfast): No engagement
  • Monster.com (Moose head): URL (Monster.com)
  • Budweiser (Jake): No engagement
  • Race To Witch Mountain (Movie trailer): URL (Disney.com/WitchMountain)
  • Transformers 2 (Movie trailer): URL
  • Careerbuilder (Hate your job): URL (Careerbuilder.com)
  • Coke (Nature): No engagement
  • Kellogg's (Frosted Flakes): URL, vote where they donate money at FrostedFlakes.com
  • NFL (Usama): URL, NFL.com/SuperAd
  • Heineken (This is a sword): No engagement

Fourth quarter:

So what do you think? Will customers continue to interact with these brands after the big game? Was $3M per commercial worth it?

My Take

I'm shocked at the percentage of advertisers who shelled out $3M for a 30-second spot, but didn't even list a URL. Advertisers paid that much to get into America's living rooms, but did not take the opportunity to enter it again.

Despite my high hopes, this year's Super Bowl was not the stellar social media outing it could have been. Out of the 54 commercials shown during the actual game (kick-off to end of game), 17 had no online engagement at all - not even a URL. Almost one-third - 31.48% - planned for no interaction with their customers after the game.

Rick Liebling at eyecube has a great idea about other ways to spend that money. I think brands would be better off if their marketing departments cared more about creating brand advocates like Rick mentions, rather than a quick one-off during the big game.

I'd love to hear what you think. Which advertisers do you think used their 30 seconds to create a conversation with their customers? Whose conversation will continue in the coming weeks and months?

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Super Bowl 2009 Ads - Social Media Engagement In The First Half

family-watching-television

$3M for a 30-second ad?

Sure it's crazy, but unlike in years past, advertisers have the opportunity to make that $3M work for them long after Super Bowl memories have faded.

First, there's the initial press. TNS Media reports that Super Bowl advertising has huge holding power. Data shows that people do wait to see the commercials all the way through the game. Then for a few days after, you get tons of online conversation swirling around your brand. (TNS was also able to rank the total media coverage last year - it will be interesting to see if these 10 brands lead the pack in terms of social media integration this year.)

But, for all its holding power, the Super Bowl is over within a few hours. How do advertisers get their money's worth? How do consumers create dialogue with select brands?

Getting The Most For $3M

Of course, the real way to really get the most for that $3M is to engage your customer. I mentioned previously some of the ways to engage your audience online and I've been tracking these attributes during the game. Here is what I have been watching for:

  • Pre-game engagement: Could customers submit their own ads in hopes of having it shown? Was there any aspect of user-generated content (UGC)? Did the brand allow customers to vote on which ad was shown?
  • During-game engagement: Was a URL displayed during the ad to drive traffic and attention to the brand? Where there opportunities for real-time interaction? Were customers encouraged to vote or otherwise voice their opinion?
  • Post-game engagement: Were there opportunities to engage the audience after the game? Could customers join a social network? Could they sign up for a newsletter featuring advance product information?

The Run-Down

Here's my list for the first half of Super Bowl 2009:

Second Quarter:

  • Land of The Lost (Movie Trailer): URL (LandOfTheLost.net)
  • Doritos (Power of crunch): UGC (Crash the Super Bowl)
  • GoDaddy (Danica): URL, commercial continued online (GoDaddy.com)
  • Pepsi Max ("I'm good"): URL (RefreshEverything.com)
  • Pedigree (Get a dog): No engagement
  • Budweiser (Horse brings branch): No engagement
  • Budweiser (Horse love) - 60 secs.: No engagement
  • Star Trek (Movie trailer): URL (StarTrekMovie.com)
  • Gatorade (Mission G): URL (MissionG.com)
  • Cars.com (Confidence): No engagement in commercial, but ad protagonist does have Facebook page
  • Hyundai Genesis (Yelling):
  • eTrade (Babies): URL (eTrade.com)
  • [Good call-out to NBC.com and Hulu]
  • Pixar (Up): URL, Verbal ask to go to Disney.com
  • Bud Light (Chalkoard): No engagement
  • H&R Block (Death): URL (HRBlock.com)
  • Teleflora (Talking flowers): URL (Teleflora.com)
  • Cheetos (Pigeons): URL with prominent written call-out (Cheetos.com)
  • Monsters Vs. Aliens (Movie trailer): URL (MonstersVsAliens.com)
  • Sobe (3-D dancing lizards): No URL, but bought Google ads against Monster vs. Aliens and sending traffic to branded Sobe YouTube channel (hat-tip @Scorecard)

Did I miss anything? Feel free to leave comments below if I left anything out or misreported on an ad. If you'd like to follow along in real time, you can find me at @MarketerBlog. I will post the second half's analysis directly after the game.

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High Hopes For Advertising And Social Media In Super Bowl 2009

high-hopes

Last year, I declared that the Super Bowl ads fumbled, but I think this year will be different.

Big name advertisers are getting the message that their audiences like social media interaction. Brian Solis announced that Anheuser-Busch developed AB-Extras, an entire site built to allow customers to "get up close and personal with the people (and Clydesdales) that make up its highly anticipated Budweiser and Bud Light commercials."

Sure, it's self-serving and lacks commenting functionality. It lacks in true dialogue, but the site is great for a behind-the-scenes look. It is certainly a step in the right direction.

Looking beyond advertisers, the NFL, Fox Sports, and the Super Bowl itself are getting in on the social media game. All of the ads are again featured on MySpace, but the page is designed much better than last year. Plus they added some great interaction opportunities.

The all-out winner for the pre-game blitz, however, goes to the NFL. They offer live video and instant analysis, but you would expect that. But they win big with their other offerings, including a replay re-cutter (where you can create your own highlight reel and rank other viewer's videos), voting on Bruce Springsteen's playlist, and they kill it on Twitter - lots of personality and incredible insights. Where else could you hear that Snoop Dogg and Kevin from The Office visited the NFL HQ?

Watching For Ads That Engage

Now, it's really up to the advertisers. Forrester Research declared that social media became mainstream in 2008. Does that mean this year's Super Bowl ads will be more engaging, with plenty of opportunities for dialogues with brands?

That's what I'm going to be watching for during this year's Super Bowl. Check back on this blog during and after the game for a summary of engagement, defined by instances of:

  • Pre-game engagement: User-generated content, selection of particular ad
  • During-game engagement: Live voting, website URL
  • Post-game engagement: Social media opportunities, broader engagement

I will post after each half of the game, listing engagement grades for each brand's ad. Or you can follow me on Twitter at @MarketerBlog for up to the minute analysis.

Feel free to leave comments below about your favorite Super Bowl ads from the past. What got you to engage the brand or have a unique experience? Which ads went beyond just making you laugh, but rather made you feel connected to a product? I look forward to hearing your responses.

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A New Business Model For A New Era

businessmen

I think Mitch Joel is one of the brightest minds in social media. But today, I've gotta take issue.

Mitch recently responded to a new Pew Research Center poll showing that television has been overtaken by the internet as a primary news source. I highly encourage you to read Mitch's thoughts here: Breaking News On The Internet. His concern is that new media (blogs, Twitter, etc.) has overtaken traditional media too quickly for a replacement advertising model to be accepted. After all, who is going to pay for all of the content online?

Now, I almost always think Mitch is right on target. But his recent post harbors some assumptions that I've been hearing more and more often from a lot of sources, but which I think are detrimental to social media marketing in its current incarnation.

In other words, it's not just Mitch - we all need to be careful about how we consider social media and how it relates to a business model.

Here are 4 assumptions I hear in the marketing community that need a good debunking:

  1. Traditional media and new media are selling the same thing: It's simply not true, so let's not talk about the two systems as though they were. TV and radio were made to sell ads; the internet is advice and expertise. Rick at eyecube said it well: "Television isn’t a medium for telling stories and disseminating information, it’s a medium for selling ads. As such, the goal is not to produce quality programming, the goal is to produce programming that will attract the most eyeballs." He goes on to make salient points about the quality that results as such, but my point is to take caution when comparing apples to oranges.
  2. The old business models were correct: Sure, advertising worked, but that didn't mean it was good. As long as a terrible product brought eyeballs or cash with them, do you really think the fat cats cared? In the old business model, marketers were shills. But now, good products tend to succeed and bad products tend to fail (and at a faster rate too). The old model sold people Ford Pintos. Now, we recommend Amazon.com to our friends. Who would want to return to the old model?
  3. Advertising is the only business model: The most surprising aspect of Mitch's post is that advertising is the only business model mentioned. There's no talk of a donation model (open source software), a merchandise model (Toothpaste For Dinner), a gimmick model (woot.com), a subscription model (The Bitterest Pill podcast), a community outreach model (Lululemon), a recommendation model (Zappos), or any other type of business model. None of these companies engages in advertising on a large scale (if at all), yet they are all very healthy businesses.
  4. The lack of a business model is a bad thing: Why? Unlike TV and radio, the content is already great. Mitch kind of admits this in both the Pew post and one from a few days earlier, named Bad TV, respectively:

    “Any idea how long it took channels like newspapers, radio and television to optimize their product to make it so appealing to advertisers? Most advertising professionals would argue that all of these channels are still working at it.”

    "[T]here is so much good content on the Internet that it is overwhelming. Where both [a DVR and an online news reader] enable you to avoid a lot of the noise, the Internet just has way too much relevant and good content - no matter what your varying interests may be."

    In other words, the hard part has been done: good content is everywhere! That's great! People find new ways to make a buck everyday online, so don't worry about it - the hard part is creating good content and cultivating an interested community.

Mitch says the internet is growing too fast - for whom exactly? Obviously not the viewing public, especially the young, if you read the Pew survey results. Obviously not us social media early adopters. So who? The suits? The record labels and the movie studios? Everyone else who tries to make a buck off of the content producer? Hey, screw 'em.

Out Of Whose Wallet?

Despite the assumptions I drew from Mitch's post, his main point is this: Who is going to pay for all of the content we consume online?

It's a valid question. Of course, good content has a price tag. But I think we've gotten too used to advertising paying for everything and it's turned advertisers into editors. That mentality won't work in this new era.

And Mitch and others get this, I think. In a post on Christmas Day, he wrote about a potential journalistic endeavor: "Hustling for banner ads is not going to generate the revenue that you were hoping for, and by focusing on this - instead of the quality and relevance of the content - it is only going to cause you to be distracted."

So let's not get distracted because of the business model. Tell business owners and old-school marketers this for now: Provide content, then build trust, then rake in new business. It's uber-simplified, but that's how you provide content at a profit.

This Isn't Personal

I count 10 blog posts in the last year alone where I had nothing but glowing things to say about Mitch. He and other new media folks are providing a light in the darkness to millions.

My concern is only that we keep moving. Sure, let's talk about business models and figure out how we can all provide the most use for our clients and make an honest buck doing it. But let's do it in a spirit that fits the new era, one where we don't get tripped up comparing things to how they were in the past.

Why? Because we're in a freakin' awesome point in time! Social media marketing is creating more honesty, value, and conversation - and I suspect that both Mitch and I would agree that's a wonderful thing.

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Marketing During A Recession: Economic Slowdowns Are Opportunities

People are scared.

Recessions (OK, economic slow-downs) are scary things. Maybe that's why I have noticed a recent theme emerge from some prominent bloggers - a lot of smart people are discussing risk and stability, and they are discussing the role of failure from a business POV.

This week, I will post a series on these topics, drawing from some of the more knowledgeable online marketers and social media types. This series will focus on the role of marketing during a recession and how to manage risk, stability, and failure. My aim is to embolden you, to reassure you that we're all sharing this anxiety but that there is a path to success.

Recession As Opportunity

Typically, marketing is one of the first departments to see cuts during economic hard times. But cutting marketing, advertising, or PR is one of the only sure ways to lose market share during the recession and then really be screwed during the boom time sure to follow.

Here are some quotes from the experts:

"[H]istorically, PR, Marketing and Advertising budgets are the first to be cut; however, that could be one of the first mistakes a business makes in an economic crisis." -WSJ's MarketWatch

"In a downturn, aggressive PR and Communications strategy is key." -Doug Leone, VC, Sequoia Capital Silicon Alley Insider

"This is not the time to cut advertising. It is well documented that brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times." -John A. Quelch, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School

"Savvy marketers realize that it is because many marketers cut advertising spending during a recession that a recession is the best and least expensive time to gain market share through advertising...It's well-documented how companies leverage downturns in the economy to effectively market themselves. In the 1970s, marketers like Revlon and Philip Morris increased their advertising to gain market share. Today, companies like Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Verizon, News Corp and PepsiCo all increased their first-quarter ad spending." -Joelle Gropper Kaufman, MediaPost

Clearly, marketing during a recession allows you to retain or grow your market share when your competitors are hunkering down. Maintained visibility translates into recognition, familiarity, and, ideally, trust.

Why Online, Why Now?

The role of the marketer has undergone dramatic changes in recent years. Instead of interrupting, we are facilitating two-way conversation. Instead of persuading with subterfuge, we are providing valuable content as a way to get new business.

The online channel is cheaper than other mediums, easier to measure, and only increasing in importance. If you agree with the premise of this first post - that marketing should not be shunted during a recession - then I encourage you to check back for future posts.

I will be posting about the idea of stability during a recession, the role of a marketer in regards to risk management, how failure can be your greatest asset, and why an economic slowdown might push social media tools into the mainstream. Subscribing is an easy way to ensure you are notified when these posts go online.

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PR Fail: 11 Ways AMC Could Have Avoided The Mad Men Twitter Flap

Image stolen and probably fodder for future lawsuit By this time, you've probably heard about the AMC-Mad Men-Twitter flap. If not, check out Jennifer Jones' SpeakMediaBlog for an explanation and update.

Basically, someone started tweeting as Don Draper, the protagonist of Mad Men - a popular show on AMC. He'd say smarmy things and recommend Scotch in the afternoons (ok, the mornings too). Then we noticed Peggy. Then Joan, Pete, and the rest of the gang. They would disperse bits of wisdom mixed with comments riffing from the show.

And for just a second, you felt like you were part of the show. It was a step toward a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU) - a concept coined by WMBN founder Rick Liebling from eyecube.

The only trouble was that the corporate overlords at AMC did what corporate overlords always do: over-react and send in the lawyers. The profiles were pulled and the Sterling Cooper Twitter branch offices went dark.

Or Did It?

Within 36 hours, AMC was dancing the mea culpa at beat the band. Accounts were reinstated and things seemed back to normal. The only thing the exercise in stupidity garnered was a load of bad press. The reaction from the blogosphere was loud and angry - but most often, not helpful.

However, here at OnlineMarketerBlog, we believe in positivity. So, to help AMC and the future AMCs (don't laugh - it could be you next time, buddy), I offer 11 ways they could have avoid the bad press, instilled brand loyalty, and maybe even picked up new viewers in the process. Here is what AMC could have done rather than dispatch the lawyers.

  1. Pay the kid. Seriously. He's already doing your job because he loves it. What better person to have on the payroll?
  2. Register similar names and do it yourself. If he's using @Don_Draper, register @DonDraper (oops, too late again!). If you think you can do it better, the do so.
  3. Hook him up with product placement deals. Have Don hock Scotch and have Joan push push-up bras. Then give him a substantial cut. Everybody's happy.
  4. Secure the SterlingCooper URL before you piss him off. The guy was using SterlingCooperAdvertising.com (which re-directs to AMC's site) before all this started, so he's either smart or sending you traffic. If it's the former and he registered the URL, pay him for it before the shouting starts.
  5. Start up tangential Twitter accounts to serve as a social connector. I'd be sure to follow @SterlingCooperBreakRoom just to see what happened.
  6. Use him to foreshadow. Send this guy early information about the next episode so he can build anticipation among your most fervent fans.
  7. Spruce up his Twitter pages. Send him quality designed images so your product looks as good as possible, even if someone outside the company is doing it.
  8. Test out new characters online. Flesh out the voice of potential characters (and build a following) before introducing them on the show.
  9. Send him shwag to give away. Build his cache and your own by delivering Mad Men martini shakers and Mad Men high-gloss shoe polish. Fans would go rabid.
  10. Set up a job board for advertising/PR/marketing folks. Collect ad money and job advertiser fees to keep the site afloat, then use it to cultivate new advertisers for the television show from companies soliciting for jobs.
  11. Hold contests. For instance, hold a "best line from a character" Twitter contest and then feature the winning statement on a future episode. Tons of people send in free content, you get a lot of good will, and you encourage viewers to take on your character's personas. This equals a brand engagement super-win.

There you have it - 11 ways AMC could have avoided all the unpleasantness and bad press, and given fans something to enrich their experience rather than subtract from it. But, you know what, I'd like to pass along a bonus idea for bone-headed companies: Try talking to the person first.

It turns out the guy behind all the of the profiles and tweets would have been happy to turn over the keys and go on his merry way. I know actually picking up the phone and calling is just a crazy idea to many in business-land, but believe me, you can avoid a lot of hassle that way. Oh, and I don't mean a lawyer calling - I mean a real person.

Don't Laugh Yet

Sure, AMC has egg on their face this week, but that will pass. I don't really mean to be so hard on them - I love the show and have no reason to think they will make the same mistake again (otherwise, I wouldn't be giving real suggestions).

However, remember that any company is susceptible to tone-deaf-ness when they don't pay attention (or at least have a new media consultant, cough, cough). Your company could be next. What are you doing to avoid AMC's fate? Are you listening to your customers and congregating where they are? If not, you likely deserve to get blindsided.

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Nothing Funny About A Good Online Video Business Model

Courtesy of gapingvoid In their new September issue, Fast Company magazine features a fascinating story about the comedy web video business and how it's almost impossible to make these websites profitable.

They lay out many of the current business models, but I think an addendum is useful. In this post, I will outline a mindset that hurts that industry, what the current business model is and why it doesn't work, a suggestion to ensure profitability, and the business model that can make an online video site profitable.

First, The Mindset

We tend to think about web videos as a "thing." It is a product. It is content.

Forget this mindset. If you're a video producer, web video might be a tangible thing that comes from tangible people sitting around your tangible office. But it's not.

For your audience, web video is an experience. There's no actual product for the viewer - the video elevates the spirits or gives us hope or connects us to others. It has more in common with a trip to Disneyland than it does with buying razor blades.

So stop thinking of a video as a commodity and start thinking of it as an experience you provide for your viewer.

Second, The Model

As the Fast Company article points out, the prevailing business model is advertiser-based. This has been the case for most things in the U.S. for more than half a century.

However, the advertiser business model cannot support web video. Consider it: the marketplace is fragmented, niche sites have the most loyal visitors, online is still new to many advertisers, audience has a decreased appetite for ads, and the content (at least on the comedy sites) is oftentimes...edgy, to put it diplomatically.

Even off-shoots of the advertiser model don't work, such as product placement and sponsored shows. The huge conglomerates that have the money to invest in these small comedy sites only know these sorts of models - give the product away in exchange for some advertiser time.

No matter how many times you throw money at the problem, this business model still doesn't work.

But that doesn't mean web videos will never be profitable. (Misters Murdoch and Branson, please have your assistants print out the following explanation.)

One Suggestion

First, just a suggestion: keep the suits as far away from the video production as possible. Nothing kills comedy like business people.

You want to appeal to college kids? Hire college kids or recent grads to do the show. Fast Company points out the CollegeHumor.com, a site still operated by the creators, plays well with YouTube and still cleans up at the bank.

"The site has attracted advertisers such as Motorola, Fox, and Subaru and reaped $4.2 million in ad revenue during the first quarter of the year. CollegeHumor is profitable - the only profitable major comedy-video site."

You do what you're good at and hire people to do what they're good at. (This applies to most businesses, not just online video, by the way.)

One Solution

OK, you've been waiting for that business model that will work better than advertising, right? This is how major media companies can succeed with online video.

Here it is, step by step, just for you titans of business:

  • Take all the money you would spend on focus groups and market research.
  • Invest this money into your online video business.
  • (Once the site is up, collect the bits of ad revenue and re-invest it.)
  • Use the website to do all the market research you would have done for your other shows.

Web video sites can be profitable when the "product" is not the web video. Websites are the perfect venue for market research. You can find out anything you want - people are dying to share their opinion for free!

Can't decide between jokes for a sitcom? Film them both and let the website audience vote. Feature pilot shows on your website and only air the most popular ones. The money you save from traditional research and focus groups (much less money lost in terrible shows you would have aired), will more than pay for your video website.

Eventually the website might make money and that's fabulous. Until then, use it as a seed bed. Test out new acts, try out new jokes, ask your audience's opinion, and gauge their interests. Web video sites can have immense value if they are viewed as research laboratories instead of content production facilities.

But what do you think? Maybe advertising just isn't being done correctly for these online comedy sites to become profitable? Maybe a subscription model like The Bitterest Pill podcast would work? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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No One Cares, You Are Doing It Wrong, And That Is Awesome

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Marketers are confused these days. The things that have worked for decades aren't working anymore. Can you imagine if you worked for 30 years in your given vocation and then, almost over night, all the rules changed?

In truth, marketing is only now becoming what it truly should have been - a conversation. Less lies, less spin. Marketers have been shoveling marshmallow fluff down the mouths of Americans and telling them it's broccoli. And suddenly, as quick as you can confuse metaphors, we find that the emperor has no clothes.

I admit I've been frustrated with the old-school marketers. "What is with these guys, and why can't they get it together?" But that's not fair. Their whole world has shifted beneath them. I came to a better understanding watching a recent Robert Scoble interview with IBM engineer Mike Moran. (I highly encourage you to check it out: Robert Scoble's interview with Mike Moran. It's only 12 minutes long and well worth your time.)

Moran gives a cogent explanation of why marketers are having such a difficult time in the new web 2.0 environment. Here is a small sample:

"The change that's really happening is you have to learn how to attract people to your message rather than pushing it at them. You have to figure out how you're going to listen when they talk back. And you also have to watch what they do. Those three things are really critical because once you do them, you have to figure out how to respond.

Those three things are really critical because once you do them, you have to figure out how to respond. When I say 'Do it wrong quickly,' it's not you trying to do it wrong, it's that you kind of admit that what you're doing is probably wrong because it usually is. And then you have to look back at the feedback from your target market to see how far off it is so that you know what to do next. And that's really a tough change for a lot of marketers.

That seems really simple, but think of it: a whole industry has changed in a matter of what, less than a decade? That is pretty outstanding. It's going from monologue to dialogue, from lecture to conversation, from directing to caring, from crossed fingers to metrics.

Likewise, David Meerman Scott had this to say a couple of weeks ago at Podcamp Boston 3 on an edition of the Marketing Over Coffee podcast:

You truly have to think differently than you ever have before, if you've been a marketer or PR person throughout your whole career. So many people have an idea of what marketing and public relations is. Marketing is typically advertising and you interrupt people and you coerce them to do something. And PR is you convince a handful of journalists to talk about your stuff.

Everything we're talking about here [at Podcamp Boston 3] is about creating something interesting that doesn't talk about your product and service - no one cares about your product and service - but gets an idea across."

All of this then reminded me of an excellent post by Josh Klein. (You really ought to subscribe to his blog. Seriously.) He was speaking about roughly the same topic, with a special focus on television. And Josh nails it when he talks about how things have changed with the internet.

"The internet wasn’t built for businesses, it was built to share information, first for the military and later for academics. Business has grown out of this original purpose, but it wasn’t the intention...

The web is not a passive medium. It’s built for engagement.

Why do companies insist on putting up brochureware websites, then wonder why nobody is visiting? Who gave them the right to take up valuable cognitive space without providing anything of value? This brings us back to the line that got axed from my presentation.

'Nobody cares about you.'"

Do you see how these three quotes all fit together into a meme? Moran says everything has changed and failure is good. Scott says you must create instead of interrupt. And Klein says this medium is built for engagement and, to engage, you must focus on the desires of the customer (not yourself or your company).

No one cares about your product, you're doing it wrong, and that is awesome.

No wonder this scares the pants off the old-school marketers - I don't blame them! Everything went topsy-turvy all of a sudden. A type of newspeak has become the norm (i.e. sell by not selling, convince by entertaining, fail to succeed).

Researching all of this has made me a little more understanding; it has made the hand-holding necessary in our industry a little more tolerable. I encourage you - whatever your age or experience - to consider the great shift in marketing when you deal with the old-school folks.

Do you think I'm correct or am I totally off base? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

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4 Reasons Not To Rely On Market Research Alone

I was freezing my tush off a couple of weeks ago at Wrigley Field and inquired to my good friend why he had made the unlikely (in my mind, at least) switch from marketing to insurance. It seemed to me that he was turned off by the manipulative and predictive nature of old-school marketing - as though statistics and market research would tell exactly how someone would behave. Then, just yesterday, I read both David Oglivy's chapter "18 Miracles of Research" in On Advertising and Hank Williams' post Who Needs Market Research. The stars seem aligned to answer a few questions about market research, including: Why can I not rely solely on market research and how can the online channel help?David Ogilvy

Sure, research is helpful to some extent. As Ogilvy said, "Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals. (pg. 158)" But you are making a severe mistake if you expect focus groups, polls, and testing to divine your strategy like a Magic 8-ball.

Market research (especially customer-focused research) must be taken with a sizable grain of proverbial salt. Here are four reasons why:

1. While I think there is some use of market research, I agree with Hank Williams' hypothesis that content and experience are much more important. People cannot articulate an experience they've never had. Focus on producing good content and a good experience - not whether people claim that they understand how they think they will respond to a hypothetical situation. And even if you have the product or advertisement, do you really think people will respond the same way to it during a focus group at the mall as they would in their own homes?

2. Often times, people can't articulate their feelings about a product at all. Malcolm Gladwell has a few intriguing examples in Blink. From Gladwell: "It [the Aeron chair] looked different. There was nothing familiar about it. Maybe the word 'ugly' was just a proxy for 'different' " [said Bill Dowell, research lead on the Aeron]. The problem with market research is that often it is simply too blunt an instrument to pick up this distinction between the bad and the merely different. (pg. 174)"Malcolm Gladwell

Not only can someone not tell you about an experience they have had, they often can't articulate one they have had. (Think about all the stories of witnesses picking the wrong suspect in a line-up.)

3. Market research produces a false sense of certainty. Many businesspeople are cowards (admit it, you've seen them). They want to keep their job rather than do their job, so they spend all day making sure they don't get in trouble (read: take risks).

Listen up, college students: Marketing does not bode well for the risk-adverse. And market research is often the tool of the risk adverse. It excuses the peon's work to the manager, the manager's decisions to the VP, and the VP's guidance to the President.

Gladwell goes on, this time using television shows as an example.

"Viewer didn't actually hate [All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show]. They were just shocked by them. And all the ballyhooed techniques used by the armies of marketer researchers at CBS utterly failed to distinguish between these two very different emotions.

But testing products or ideas that are truly revolutionary is another matter, and the most successful companies are those that understand that in those cases, the first impressions of their consumers need interpretation. We like market research because it provides certainty - a score, a prediction; if someone asks us why we made the decision we did, we can point to a number. But the truth is that for the most important decisions, there can be no certainty. (pg. 175 - my emphasis)"

4. People knowingly or unknowingly lie or give the answer they think they ought to. It's an unpleasant truth. Spend any time in politics and you will become a believer too.

From Ogilvy: "Respondents do not always tell the truth to interviewers. I used to start my questionnaires by asking, 'Which would you rather hear on the radio tonight - Jack Benny or a Shakespeare play?' If the respondent said Shakespeare, I knew he was a liar and broke off the interview. (pg. 164)"

In addition to saying what they think you want to hear (as in Ogilvy's example), remember that many people even today carry deep biases. Watch the exit polls after this year's Presidential campaign. I guarantee the exit poll results will be significantly different from the actual voting in favor of McCain. While people want to say they will vote for a woman or an African-American, things change when they're alone in the booth. The same behavior applies to products and advertisements

Why The Online Channel Improves This Process:

People experience websites and the metrics (time on page, pageviews, clicks, bounce rate, etc) prove their interests. You can be certain of this because metrics don't lie.

Despite all this, we have spent decades believing in and promoting the old way of market research. It was to be expected - we had nothing else to go on.

Now, however, web analytics free us from market research. Instead of asking "What would you do in this situation," we can actually measure behavior, with certainty, in real time.

There is no reason to run a focus group at the mall or pay for phone interviews. Almost every demographic is well represented online. The results are more accurate and it costs far less. Why would you do it the old way?

If your company still partakes in these practices, re-read #3. Someone there needs to be assuaged and reassured. They are so uncertain of the product or ad that they cling to something tangible: people gathered, surveys marked in pencil, spreadsheets checked and cross-checked.

Sure, sometimes it is a useful exercise to do the old customer-focused market research. It can sometimes serve a purpose - whether in extracting customer opinion or forcing businesspeople to solidify their positions. But market research ought not be a manipulative tool. You cannot neither predict the future nor truly influence behavior with just market research. My friend from Wrigley understood the distastefulness of this.

Build a relationship with your customer. Listen. Engage them. Foster trust. Develop these skills instead and you'll hit it out of the park time.

Ogilvy vs. Godin: Is The Big Idea In Advertising Dead?

Is the concept of the Big Idea dead in advertising? How much has the internet and Web 2.0 specifically altered the fundamentals of the industry? In his 1983 book, On Advertising, master David Ogilvy held forth on the central tenet to sell products:

"You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas. It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product...Research can't help you much, because it cannot predict the cumulative value of an idea, and no idea is big unless it will work for thirty years" (emphasis by the author, page 16).

And yet, almost the very same day as I read this from Ogilvy, I find myself almost stunned off the treadmill as new master Seth Godin holds forth on the big idea in the third disk of his audio book, Meatball Sundae:

"There's a difference between a big idea that comes from a product or service, and a big idea that comes from the world of advertising. The secret of big-time advertising during the 60s and 70s was the big idea...Big ideas in advertising worked great when advertising was in charge. With a limited amount of spectrum and a lot of hungry consumers, the stage was set to put on a show. And the better the show, the bigger the punchline, the more profit could be made. Today, the advertiser's big idea doesn't travel very well. Instead, the idea must be embedded into the experience of the product, itself. Once again, what we used to think of as advertising or marketing is pushed deeper into the organization. Yes, there are big ideas. They're just not advertising-based" (disk 3, minute 48).

Of course, we should probably define a "big idea." As explained, a big idea is an advertising tool to sell products. It stands the test of time. It originates with the company and is distributed far and wide. It is inextricably linked to the product and the experience of the product.

In my mind, big ideas include cut-out coupons. By-mail Sears catalogs and mail-in rebates. Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit. Toys in cereal boxes that had kids begging Mom to pick that one! (Why cereal innovation is on my mind this morning, I have no idea.) Shopping malls. Radio jingles. Anything that fundamentally affected people's decision about whether to buy a certain product or not.

So where do I stand?

I side with Ogilvy. The big idea isn't dead - in fact, it can only be expanded. I don't see Tony the Tiger disappearing from the hills of Grand Rapids. In fact, I would be disappointed if there wasn't a new way to interact with Tony. I want his roar as my ringtone. I expect to see him at Club Penguin.

None of this has changed - the ways companies persuade, coax, cajole, argue, and convince us to buy their products - except for Godin's point about the ideas being provided solely by the company. Of course consumers have more opportunity to interact and suggest to a company and the wise companies listen.

But for Godin to claim that the experience of the product is only now linked to the big idea is folly. Mothers bought a particular type of margarine because of the coupon. We chose Honey Smacks cereal because of the colors, the kinetic energy in the commercials, and the cute, cracked-out frog mascot (again, with the cereal...).

The big idea has always been linked with the experience of the product because the experience has often been more important than the product itself! This is nothing new.

The internet and Web 2.0 only give us more opportunity to riff on that. Big ideas may not have to originate with a company, but they will still likely need to flow from or be enacted by the company. Maybe the new importance in advertising is not creating the big idea, but being wise enough to hear it when it is whispered from the crowd.

Advertising Mistakes - How Your Paid Search Is Hurting You

Most business owners have heard about Google or Yahoo ads and many are participating in these programs. These solutions allow your specific ads to reach your target audience at minimal cost. So what's the down-side? Can paid search actually hurt you and your brand?

The answer is a resounding yes. Done right, paid search advertising is one of the easiest ways to increase knowledge of your product or brand. But done poorly, it can cause your marketing budget to hemorrhage and turn your customers against you.

There are two ways that your paid search could be detrimentally effecting your brand.

Being Where You Shouldn't Be

Online search advertising works because you decide what words are going to cause your ad to appear. If you are a high-end coffee seller, you would not only bid on the word "coffee," but also "Kona" and "Jamaican Blue Mountain." You want to select any relevant word that would lead the right kind of customers to your product.

But most retailers don't use a fairly common feature of search engines that allows you to skip mistaken or misleading search terms.

The image to the right shows a recent page I was visiting on Occam's Razor - the philosophy that every problem can be solved by slicing it down to its simplest incarnation. So imagine my surprise when I saw a Norelco ad in the right column - not the razor I was looking for!

Similarly, the author of the PrettyLittleGirls blog tells how a recent NPR story on African-Americans women with eating disorders featured a Weight Watchers ad directly beside the story. This is a prime example of how an innocuous advertiser damages their reputation. Don't be where you shouldn't be.

Not Being Where You Should Be

Likewise, you miss out on prime opportunities when your ads aren't where they can do the most good. And if you don't think like customers, potential customers, or detractors, your paid search will languish.

When Naomi Campbell danced with lizards in a Super Bowl ad to the Thriller music, Sobe Water expected people to remember their brand name. They didn't bid on words like "dancing lizards" even though that's what customers would remember when they visited Google the day after the game.

If you think potential customers always spell your company's name correctly, you are sorely mistaken. Are you bidding on misspellings or are you letting all of those customers slip through your fingers?

Finally, not everyone is going to love your company (yet). Your best option is to confront this head-on. Bid on phrases like "[your company] sucks" and you can begin converting people from complainers to customers. Don't believe me? Search for any company's name with "sucks" after it. Do you see any company ads seeking to change minds? That is a missed opportunity.

The Gist

Don't waste your money by advertising in stupid places. And don't miss out on opportunities because you didn't think like your audience. It sounds simple, but many companies make these same mistakes every day.

Epic Fail: Customer Service - How Citibank Failed and Why They'll Never Know

Update: I've received some attention from the post below, but I feel as though I should clarify a few things. The email from Citibank was lame, but for a huge company, not totally surprising. However, the arrival of this email does not necessarily negate that the company is listening. Toward the end of the post, I make that connection and most of the time, it's true. In this case, however, I don't think it is responsible to connect one lame email with a company's entire attitude.

That said, the moral of the post - companies who fail to listen will be overtaken by those that do - still stands. I believe that will only become more apparent as time goes on. -End update

To fail may be human, but for a company to fail at customer service these days may well be disaster.

You may remember when I mentioned a Citibank ad last week in a post about features versus benefits in advertising. Their print ad was spot-on when it spoke about how Citibank fit into their customers' lives (plus, who can resist a cute puppy?).

Citibank fail small

Epic Fail

So when I sent them an email noting my complimentary post, I expected at least a quick "thanks!" That's the response I got from Moosejaw (they even promised to send me some schwag which must have gotten lost in the mail...). So imagine my surprise then almost 48 hours later, they reply with a standard "sorry, we can't even respond to your email" email.

The email isn't that important and I don't expect a pat on the back from a multi-national company. However, the time delay tells me that this was not an auto-generated email - some person sitting at a computer was getting paid to send Citibank customers (or fans!) crappy, say-nothing emails. Which means their customer service representative's job is to rebuff customers or potential customers.Amazon small

What It Means To Be Human

Yet, on the same day I received this epic fail, I went to Amazon.com. On the top of the homepage - the very first thing you saw - Amazon was thanking its customers for buying the Kindle, offering special discounts for those who ordered in advance, and relating in a totally human way by showing off the Kindle cake. How different is this response?

Maybe Seth Godin is right (again). About two-thirds through the first disc of the Meatball Sundae audio disc, Godin talks about the difference between companies that sold stuff (meatballs) before the internet and those that grew their business on and through the internet (the sundae). (Incidentally, notice that there are two friendly mentions on the Meatball Sundae Amazon page that tell me the book is available on a Kindle.)

The point of his whole book is that you can't just use the fun new web tools - blogs, wikis, Facebook, etc. - to sell that same regular stuff. These new tools require a whole new business model. And the reality is that it is really, really difficult to do this if you are in the meatball business.

Sometimes you can learn from failure; hell, sometimes it's down-right hilarious. But to fail at customer service these days, when it's as easy and cheap as an email, is ludicrous. Sure, Citibank is the old model, selling meatballs like they have for a hundred years. But it's time to clean the dust out of your ears and start listening to your customers. Either that or you won't have to worry about them being customers for much longer.

It's Online Branding Time

Written by today's guest blogger: This is my first post here on the OnlineMarketerBlog. I was asked by our kind host to share some thoughts I have about online branding. By way of credentials, I work in the marketing department of a large national company. I'm a copywriter by training with internet, print, and broadcast experience. And now for the disclaimer: These ideas which I'm about to share are of course mine, and don’t reflect the ideas of this blog’s host or my employer. I was at work the other day when I came across this Acura landing page. It’s a robust landing page that touts the features of the car. And these types of pages are everywhere. Nissan, Toyota, Honda, GM...they all have them. And they're all really boring. They do serve a purpose. These sites let prospective buyers learn about and price out a car. But they don’t tell a prospective owner anything about the brand.

And then I started thinking…why don’t car companies spend some of their immense marketing budgets on online branding efforts? The car market as a whole is perfect for online branding. Since cars are aspirational, a branded message speaks directly to how people should feel when they buy a specific car. In a lot of ways the brand message is just as important as a car’s features to a consumer. I tried to think back on examples of online branding in the car market and I came up with two, a Scion advergame and two Nissan Rogue videos.

So where are the online branding campaigns? Is it purely that these companies are focused on the active consumer? Someone who is currently researching new cars? Is it because they are scared that they can’t track the value of a branding campaign?

And the answer is…market segments. Scion is geared towards 20 year olds. Nissan introduced the Rogue on the television show Heroes. These brands skew young and marketers think that only younger folk will view viral online videos and advergames.

It is a fallacy that online branding is only for the young and not for the soccer mom driving an Odyssey or the contractor driving a Dodge Ram.

Just remember what BMW did before people had ever heard the term viral video. They created BMW Films an almost perfect aspirational brand message targeted towards their core consumer.

Just leave the talk of how much money the movies cost for another discussion. Sure it was expensive, but how many BMWs do you need to sell to recoup those costs?

Please Ignore This Ad - Features vs. Benefits

BG and I were driving to work on Friday when I commented on a radio ad. She said she hadn't even noticed it and I can't say I'm surprised. It was a car ad from one of the big companies - Ford or Chevy, I think - and it made me think about one of the most important rules of adverting. Features Vs. Benefits

In their book Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath frequently mention the difference between features and benefits. Features are specific details that made the product unique or special. These are the phrases that the guys on any sales floor repeat ad naseum. Benefits, however, explain how the product fits into a person's life or makes their lives easier or better.

If you've ever had a job, you've probably talked about features - we all do it. That's because when we spend 8 or 10 hours a day on something, we like to think it is in some way worthwhile. If you work for Wendy's, you can explain how your burgers vary from McDonald's. If you assemble televisions, you know all the specs.

There is a cruel truth about features though: no one cares but you. It's sad, I know, because we all want our thing (whatever that is) to be the best. But the consumer doesn't really care about how you want to be the best. She wants to know how your product will impact her life.

Chip and Dan give a few examples of the difference between features and benefits. It's the difference between selling "the world's great lawn fertilizer" and selling "the world's best looking lawn." It's the difference between selling drill-bits and telling Dad how to hang his kid's pictures.

When Engineers Write Ads

So let's go back to that radio ad we heard on the way to work. It was almost like they threw out the marketing team and asked the engineers to make the ad. The car industry seems to have forgotten how customers behave: no one compares your truck's payload capacity before buying, no one knows who J.D. Power and Associates is, and no one knows what the hell a "hemi" is (or why on earth they should want one).

In this example, the engineers are speaking one language and the consumer is speaking another. From Chip and Dan: "[T]he moral of the story is to find a 'universal language,' one that everyone speaks fluently. Inevitably, that universal language will be concrete" (pg. 115).

The Good Example

BG dropped me off at the train station and I started reading the March issue of Wired magazine. Just a few pages in I serendipitously found a good example of features vs. benefits. ThCitibank adis Citibank ad shows a real dog sleeping next to a toy poodle. In the 40-odd words to the right of the picture, there's a short story about how Max the dog was depressed. His owners tried everything, but eventually bought Max a toy poodle as a companion. It worked and now everyone sleeps better at night. The Citibank arch links "stuffed poodle" with "smitten dog."

How perfect is this example of speaking in terms of benefits? Citibank's marketing team could have touted any number of features: their financial know-how, their FDIC ranking, their IRA revenue-generating power. Instead, they spoke the customer's language - how your Citibank card can please your pet and help you get a better night's sleep. Bravo, Citibank. Benefits trump features any day of the week.

Marketing To Latinos - What You Think You Know CAN Hurt You

Imagine your job is to market to Latinos. Let's say it is our job to sell houses to young Latino families. (While you're flexing your imagination, forget the housing crisis for just a moment.) OK, so we're fancy ad execs ready to place these folks in the homes of their dreams. We've got two ads to chose from. The first ad features a large, politically-correctish-brownish family laughing the day away. The second ad shows a bright green lawn that was trimmed with sewing scissors and there's a white picket fence, probably owned by people named Chet and Muffy in a locale that starts with "the" (think Hamptons, Vineyard, etc.).

Which would sell more houses to our young Latino family? What property has the appeal to seal the deal?

According to Alicia Morga, Founder and CEO of Consorte Media, the first ad featuring the big, happy family polled the worst among her focus group. It turned out that people didn't prefer to be marketed to as a race; they were more attracted to their aspirations (property ownership, America dream, suburbia).

Now, let's try the same exercise with cars. How do we get Latinos, one of the fastest growing segments of the population, to buy more of our vehicles?

MarketingVox has this explanation of a recent Hyundai ad: " 'Second Chance,' a [Hyundai] TV spot, features a man reflecting on how he would take life more seriously during an out-of-body experience [after a car accident]. The sentiment of taking life more seriously — was positioned as a cultural cue."

I understand if you need to read that over again. Heck, here's the original in its glory. Enjoy.

The basest weed outbraves his dignity

So let's review: Hyundai wants to increase the number of Latinos who own their cars. In order to sell these cars, they create an ad that focuses on the regrets a man has after a car accident. Of course, they do go the extra mile with a website all in Spanish. I recommend clicking "Seguridad" and then "Aire" - you can save Latinos who wander around cluelessly on a flaming apartment before falling, only to be saved by a Hyundai airbag (I swear I'm not kidding).

If we assume this is a bad ad - I think we can assume that, right? - what's wrong with it? Before we begin the litany, let's relate it to the first ad. The first example showed us that people like to be talked up to (as opposed to talked down to). They seem to appreciate it when we treat them with dignity. I don't know what kind of "cultural cue" re-evaluating your life after a car accident is, but it doesn't sound particularly infused with dignity.

Clearly, there a difference between marketers knowing the demographics and actually knowing Latinos.

Get to know them

Yes, it helps to know demographics. Some facts are fairly obvious (Latinos tend to be more Catholic than the population at large) and some are not so obvious (Colorado and Georgia are among the top ten states for Hispanic purchasing power). If the first rule of marketing is to know your audience, these are not useless facts. However, as generalizations, they should be held at arm's length.

No, really get to know them

The difference between the demographic facts and the first ad example is how people are viewed. In a focus group like Alicia Morga's, people are truly individuals. Instead of focusing on how groups are different (demographics), wouldn't it be better to focus on what brings us together (aspirations)? We all want to provide for our family, we all want to own property, we all want to be treated with that dignity.

Better for business: pulling together or tearing apart?

I'm all for changing the world in your day job, but this is really about being better marketers (social change is the added benefit). Gary Nelson wrote a great article for iMedia Connection about ethnic marketing:

I believe that a unique opportunity exists in America. We are all multi-cultural, we are African, Irish, Italian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, (the list goes on)-American. Considering the latter half of the hyphenation, and the fact that we all carry it as citizens, shouldn't we in the advertising industry emphasize the ties that connect us rather than the gaps that keep us apart?

And it turns out that all this feel-goodery actually produces better marketing! We can avoid embarrassing ads like Hyundai's and focus on things that actually poll better among consumers; just think about the house and the white picket fence. It turns out that treating people like actual people is better for business. Just imagine that.

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2 Unexpected Valentine's Day Ads

BG and I do not celebrate Valentine's Day. She is vehemently opposed to what she describes as "fake holidays forcing people to buy stupid crap" (gosh, I love that woman). I prefer to say that every day is Valentine's Day for us and then I giggle. Last night I was reading Chip and Dan Heath's great book, Made to Stick. One of their tenants of "stickiness" is the unexpected. But sometimes when ads use unexpectedness or surprise it comes off as "WTF"? They say, "The easiest way to avoid gimmicky surprise and ensure that your unexpected ideas produce insights is to make sure you target an aspect of your audience's guessing machine that relates to your core message" (pg. 71).

I have seen two Valentine's Day ads that I think work well with this concept. (Chip and Dan: feel free to correct me!)

  • Ann Summers lingerie has an ad that is funny and NSFW. The tagline risks cheesy-ness when it proclaims, "This Valentine's Day, give your man some wood," but the ad is a little more creative than the tagline illustrates. It's worth a view, but check over your shoulder first. I think this works with the expected principle because for the first 20 seconds we want to figure out why these beautiful women are delivering clothespins and statues and clogs. And while the tagline might produce a groan, it does link to their core message!
  • However, my absolute favorite Valentine's Day's ad is from White Castle. Not only is it unexpected, but it's simple and funny too. Plus, it shows a willingness to not take one's self too seriously and to go the extra mile. Can you imagine dinner candles at Wendy's? And the copy is genius ("hot little buns"). They took what they had and made it into gold.

I hope everyone has a lovely Valentine's Day! Since we don't believe in it, we will celebrate by babysitting tonight. Now that's unexpected.