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Just Put A Monkey In A Diaper

According to a new LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll in June, 2009, of consumers and advertisers involved in the advertising decision making process, consumers and advertisers both like ads that amuse. 

  • 34% of consumers and 41% of advertisers say entertaining ads are very effective
  • 33% of consumers and 32% of advertisers say funny ads are very effective

I think David Ogilvy said it best.

Be well-mannered, but don’t be a clown. People don’t buy from bad-mannered salesmen, and research has shown that they don’t buy from bad-mannered advertisements. It’s easier to sell people with a friendly handshake than by hitting them over the head with a hammer. You should try to charm the consumer into buying your product. This doesn’t mean that your advertisements should be cute or comic. People don’t buy from clowns.
—David Ogilvy

There’s always a danger in asking people what they think will work and this research is great example. With very few exceptions, humor doesn’t work. Study after study demonstrates that humorous ads do generate recall. However, it takes sales not recall to pay the bills. People like funny ads but at the end of the day, we all enjoy the joke but we rarely take humor seriously.

Take your customers or products seriously or risk becoming a joke. Smart sells, clowns amuse.

Local Media Gets Into The Spirit(s)

Increasingly, local TV stations are accepting liquor advertising.

It appears that the self-imposed ban on ads for distilled spirits is disappearing quickly and the industry is hoping the networks will follow suit.

"If the owned-and-operated stations are taking them, clearly the networks are seeing that it's just profit left on the table," said Frank Coleman of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. New York Post (6/14)

With the huge cuts in auto ad spending and the closure of national retailers such as Circuit City, I have a feeling we will begin to see a lot of nontraditional advertisers on broadcast and radio in the very near future.

What Marketers Need To Buy Before the Economy Improves

Earlier this month, Forbes put out a list of ten things to buy right now (assuming you have the cash) before the economy improves. Deals can be had for most of these items and the deals will probably evaporate later in the year. Here’s the Forbes list:

  1. Car
  2. A Vacation
  3. High-Dividend Stocks
  4. Laptop
  5. Television
  6. Toys
  7. Diamonds
  8. Women’s Clothing
  9. Furniture
  10. House

From a marketing standpoint, what items should we be focusing on before the economy improves? Granted, all of these items are dependent on the health of your organization and company budgets. If you are in the right position, here are a few things to think about.

First, advertising deals are available. Those with the budget should lock in avails now. New or renegotiated office space should be on the list since prices are depressed and availability is plentiful. Plus, creating a workspace that reflects your brand, your organization and who you want to be when the economy turns is now within reach.

Technology should also be on the list. Typically, tech leads early in most recoveries and the deals will dissipate quickly. Right now deals can be had plus you have the opportunity to get a leg up on the competition by improving your current processes.

Buy the competition. Oracle snapped up Sun, keeping them from IBM. Oracle will be creating efficiencies at Sun while the economy is improving which should be very helpful to their balance sheet. Why not take a look at buying up the competition? If they are not as healthy, this might be the time to talk.

Go see your customers. Travel is cheap. Why not go now when others are avoiding travel and when the prices are reasonable?

Of all of these, the last one is the most important. Go talk with your clients and see where they are headed and see how you can be part of their growth story. Remember, their recovery is your recovery.

Coupon Usage Is Attitudinal, Except During A Recession

In the late 90’s, I spent some time in marketing with shared mailer Advo. Now part of Valassis, Advo was the largest mailer in the country and the largest customer of the USPS. Each week, those shared mail packages containing coupons and inserts reached most of the households in the US.

One objection our sales team often faced was the perception that coupon usage was demographic and primarily used by lower income groups. To combat that perception, we commissioned research to show that all income groups used coupons. Usage was attitudinal and not necessarily based on income. As you might guess, there are a lot of wealthy Americans who use coupons. The research confirmed our message and was part of many presentations.

In the current economic climate, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see increases in coupon usage among a lot of different groups and markets. The amount of increases will vary from market to market. According to MRI, here are the top 10 DMA’s who used cents-off coupons in the last year:

  1. Harrisburg/ Lancaster/ Lebanon/ York, Pa.
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Rochester, N.Y.
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Albany/ Schenectady/ Troy, N.Y.
  6. Syracuse, N.Y.
  7. Buffalo, N.Y.
  8. Hartford & New Haven, Conn.
  9. Minneapolis/ St. Paul
  10. Wilkes Barre-Scranton, Pa.

Source: MRI's Market-by-Market study, www.mediamark.com

Needless to say, one common element in each of these markets is job losses, particularly in the manufacturing sector. During difficult economic times, coupon usage and spending at discounters definitely increases, but this will vary from market to market. It is no surprise that these markets would be leading the pack.

It will be interesting to see if usage will hold up as the economy improves. Will this downturn be deep enough to have a lasting effect on usage and on attitudes? I’m guessing that a lot of people at Valassis are hoping that it will.

eBay Comes Full Circle

In 2003, I put together an analysis of the impact of eBay and Craigslist on the newspaper industry. In short, I concluded that the private party business for newspapers was about to go over the cliff. Not quite the answer the requesting audience had expected.

This morning’s news that eBay has launched an online automobile selling site closes the loop. eBay Motors has developed what might be called Craigslist for Cars, a local classified ad section for individual sellers.

The site is intended to connect buyers and sellers within a 100-mile radius of their local markets.

Losing private party auto liner ads will negatively impact the print ad revenues from dealers. The readership of those auto classified pages with their large dealer display ads is bolstered by the liner ads placed by private parties. As the liner business slips away, so does the readership and the response advertisers can expect from their ads.

It is not a surprise that eBay would finally take a shot at the private party liner ads. I’m just wondering what took so long.

The Perils of a Celebrity Spokesperson

Entrepreneur Magazine offers up a listing of tips to smaller businesses and startups interested in employing a celebrity spokesperson. The article’s advice for companies looking to boost their visibility offers more than a dozen tips on finding the right celebrity endorsement. Here are some of the more important takeaways:

  • Define expectations, budget and time frame
  • Be sure values, ethics and personalities jibe
  • Don't settle for just any celebrity
  • Evaluate with your head, not your heart
  • When shooting for the stars, aim high
  • For businesses whose market is strictly local, think local celebrity
  • Look for someone with charisma
  • Find someone willing to go beyond the call of duty because he or she has genuine interest in your product/brand
  • Weigh whether to hire an outside firm to help in the search
  • Know the risks-—and have an exit strategy

That last item is the most important. While the article spends a lot of time talking about the positive aspects of a celebrity spokesperson, it also brings a lot of risk.

When you employ a spokesperson, you are aligning your brand and organization with the face of a single individual. This can be very successful for all types of organizations. Wendy’s had a great run with Dave Thomas, Priceline has done very well with William Shatner and George Foreman made the Foreman Grill a success.

However, trouble for a spokesperson generally means trouble for the business or brand. Despite the familiarity and appeal of a celebrity (often calculated by us researchers as a Q-Score), their troubles are now your troubles.

Here’s a great example. Many years ago, a mid-sized southern regional bank tried to position themselves as friendly and caring about their customers. The campaign included the tag line “Where banking is still a people business.” It was great campaign that made the CEO the face of the organization. The CEO was the epitome of a bank CEO, tall, gray hair, and always wearing a blue suit. The CEO was included in local commercials dismissing the importance of technology and automation, always closing with the tag, “Banking is a people business!”

The organization spent a lot on the campaign and on customer service and measuring customer satisfaction. The entire organization was focused on customer service and customer surveys.

Just one problem. Profitability. The organization did a great job of focusing on the customer and developing the campaign, but they also made a lot of bad loans and lost sight of risk and profitability.

As you might guess, the CEO was removed and the spokesperson of the campaign disappeared. All of the investments that made the CEO the face of an organization focused on satisfying the customer was history, and so was the successful campaign.

Having a celebrity spokesperson ties your brand to that person. Everyone has ups and downs and their success or failure now become your worry. It can make a small company, just ask George Foreman, or it can be a complete headache. Whatever you do, it should never be done lightly and without some thought. I also would suggest not using a CEO. Being able to distance yourself from a celebrity is much easier than distancing yourself from your CEO or former CEO.

Mine, Turning Pages Online?

Having conducted a lot of focus groups for print products, I can tell you that the desire for customized content has been a recurring theme from readers for many years. Time, Inc is planning to test a new product that provides customized content. The magazine called "Mine" combines reader-selected sections from eight publications. The magazine is free but the print edition is limited to the first 31,000 respondents, while an online version is available for another 200,000.

Online subscribers will get digital editions that look just like the printed version, but in a special format that allows virtual page turns with clicks. Editors will pre-select the stories that make it into every biweekly issue, and readers won't have the option of changing the picks from issue to issue. There are 56 editorial combinations.

This summer, MediaNews Group, publisher of The Denver Post, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News and other newspapers, plans to experiment with its own reader-created publication, likely at its Daily News in Los Angeles.

Readers will be allowed to choose specific stories, or those by author, keyword or subject. The customized publication will be laid out like a newspaper and sent with targeted advertisements as a digital "PDF" file for printing at home or viewing on computers or mobile phones.

I’m a little skeptical of both these ventures for one reason; they are both trying to digitally replicate a print experience. I applaud the efforts to try something new, but the online experience is different and distinct from print. Users navigate online products very differently from print and have very different expectations for each channel.

I would love to see both provide customized content online that is a true online experience. I think this would be a better test of how to purpose content by channel. Logistically, it would be a headache. However in the end, I think you would have a cleaner and more valuable test.

The Twitter Rule

According to the TNS Compete and the Consumer Electronics Association joint study, older age segments 50+ use many technologies at or near comparable rates as younger age segments.

Older Americans, however, rely more heavily on in-person information sources for purchasing electronics products and sixty-three percent spoke with a sales associate in-person when researching their consumer electronics purchase, compared to 47 percent of those aged 18-49.

Sixty percent of consumers aged 50 and older also indicated that a product having too many features was a main reason for being frustrated with technology, compared to 39 percent of consumers aged 18-49.

A couple of key takeaways.

Regardless of the segment or age cohort, products have to be intuitive, seamlessly integrated, and easy to explain. The Tivo remote will go down as one of the best examples of an easy to use product that could be easily explained by a Best Buy or Circuit City rep. It does not matter that the product is superior in terms of benefits and technology if the average consumer has to invest significant time into understanding how to use it.

This applies to any product, not just technology. Insurance products are notoriously difficult to understand and most financial products look like the Chief Legal Counsel wrote the marketing copy.

One side effect of this economic downturn will be a focus on ease of use and an easily understood value proposition. Smart companies and marketers will focus on understanding what customers need, creating brands and products that fulfill real needs, are easy to use, and can be easily explained.

In a sense, you could call it the Twitter rule. You need to be able explain the value of your products or how to use your products in 140 characters or less. Twitter is easy to use and forces users to really think about what they are saying. As a marketer, I can’t think of a better method to test understanding of a product and the value it provides customers.

If you can tweet it, you can probably sell it.

Earned Media In The Blink of An Eye

'High Life': All Miller needed to say.

Sales of Miller High Life popped 8.6% during the week after the Super Bowl vs. the same period a year earlier, and they were up nearly 5% during the week before the game, according to ACNielsen.

Miller announced plans to air the ads -- and placed a bunch of them online -- on Jan. 20. Despite NBC’s directive to its owned and operated stations not to run them, the spots and/or the hubbub around the spots worked. The one-second spot ran in more than 100 markets nationwide.

Great formula:

Leverage old media for earned media program + smart online strategy=8.6% growth.

One In Four Have It Right

According to a survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers, 77% of marketers plan to reduce their advertising campaigns' media budgets.

Typically, advertising lags six to twelve months behind the economy. So, most advertising growth should occur in 2010. As the economy begins to improve late in the year, smart advertisers (i.e. the 23% not cutting budgets) will have plans and budgets in place to take advantage of lower rates, available inventory and opportunities to grab share.

It also looks like agencies will need to cut expenses to hold on to accounts. Check out these other findings:

  • 72% of marketers plan to reduce advertising-campaign production budgets
  • 68% plan to "challenge" agencies to reduce internal expenses and/or identify cost reductions
  • 48% are looking at reducing agency compensation