Monday, February 1, 2010

Marketers could learn a lot from trial lawyers.

I spent last week as a juror on a criminal case brought by the Federal Government. It was a technical case involving a lot of complicated tax law–not the sexiest case for a jury, but I found myself fascinated. I was amazed at the strategic discipline exhibited by the prosecutor who had to “sell” the jury his evidence. Naturally I let my mind explore what it would be like if us marketers were forced to adhere to the same strict discipline.

Prosecuting a case before a jury is a lot like developing a marketing strategy and subsequent creative campaign. The win–conviction in a trial, sale for a marketer–only happens if you stick like glue to the facts and relevant principles surrounding whatever you are selling. You need to completely understand your target market and you have a very small window to convince them that they want or need your product.

In advertising, our opening statement consists of a creative strategy, a statement that sets the tone of the communication, establishes the objective, gives an overview of supporting evidence and identifies the target market. In this stage we can be opinionated and site hearsay, but our true challenge lies in the evidence we present to support the charges about our product.

Once you start presenting your evidence, the ultimate challenge is to prove it is authentic and relevant. Stay on message and communicate clearly in a way that will move your target to take the desired action.

Throughout the week, I found myself fantasizing about how many times I would have liked to stand and “object” when myself, a co-worker or a client got off strategy.

“I object your honor, please have the creative director state the relevance!”

“I object your honor, client has not admitted any evidence to support that statement.”

“I object your honor, this evidence is outside of the scope of the original intent of the case the client brought in front of our creative team.”

Advertising teams are challenged with the burden of proof when charged with marketing objectives. Our marketing campaigns are the production of evidence to support our positioning and make it relevant to our potential customers. We have to be very careful not to mislead our target market into believing that they will be getting something that our client’s product or service cannot deliver. No matter how badly you want to believe that your brand supports your positioning, it must rest in a verifiable truth.

All of us marketers could benefit from a judge overruling our imperfect strategic plans. Because like a courtroom prosecution, the judge and jury have the right to throw out the case (read: abandon the pursuit of your product or service) when you have not proven that you can pay off (prove) your brand positioning.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Facebook isn’t just for procrastinating–innovative ways social media is assisting in disaster relief

I am one of those Facebook users irritated by all the cheesy games on Facebook. I’ve never played one, never sent a heart, sheared sheep, gotten a jewel, planted corn or secured bonus loot. (Incidentally, I also hate Webkinz that I am forced to help my 6 year old navigate).

So it was quite interesting to see how one of the most ubiquitous game purveyors, Zygan, is using their products and the devotion of their 180 million fans to help Haitain relief efforts. Zynga is behind such run away hits as FarmVille, Zygan Poker and Mafia Wars. According to the company website, “Zynga is donating 100 percent of the proceeds from non-withering white corn within FarmVille, a Haitian drum on Mafia Wars, the Haiti Wrasse Fish in FishVille, and a special chip package in Zynga Poker to support emergency aid in Haiti through the Zynga Haiti Relief Fund.”

The fact that people will spend real live, actual money on virtual things they send to virtual places still boggles my mind. But right now that aimless play has the potential to do some real good.

You’ve probably heard of the American Red Cross texting campaign–text 90999 and donate $10 to Haitian relief. This campaign had raised $3 million just two days after launch. The campaign is easy (I have a phone), fast (:30), familiar (I text all the time) and the sacrifice threshold is low ($10). These same principles apply to online games where users are already at the donattion portal and accustomed to making purchases.

I have no idea what the profit potential of Farmville corn is for Haiti, but I do know it makes me slightly less irritated to see my friends playing the game.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The future of print won’t even be printed

Over the last few years we have seen a dramatic drop in advertising in print media. While demographics shows that an older population still favors a printed product over a computer screen, the trend is for corporations to allocate more and more of their marketing budget to online outlets.

So what will happen to print? Let’s just say it will be getting an overdue facelift over the next five years. The biggest change will be to the physical form. Starting this year, tablet devices will start to take hold. Consumers have already shown interest in this style device over the last couple years in the form of the Kindle, e-Book, the Nook and others. While these devices have been primarily used to push digital books, they will now evolve to push every form of printed communication.

So who will be the major player in tablet communications? While many will vie for the top spot, I believe there will be one stand out–Apple. If you know me, you know I’m a bit biased when it comes to Apple. The reality, however, is that they already have the infrastructure to pull this off. They have one of the largest, if not the largest e-commerce store with 75 million accounts with credit cards registered to them. They are the largest music retailer in the US, accounting for 25% of music sales. In addition, their app store sold 99.4% of the apps sold online in 2009. So when you think about subscriptions to magazines or newspaper, why couldn’t they achieve the same thing over the next five years? They already have revolutionized the music industry and the phone industry, so why not print?

So what kind of changes can we expect to see in print if Apple has their say? I have come up with five changes that I expect to see in the print industry in coming years.

  1. Format

The static print format will be gone. Through digital print we will have the ability to add video and sound. This goes for both content and advertising. For example, Sports Illustrated showed a sample digital magazine and in it the reader was able to read the article on their favorite player, as well as watch video relating to the player and tweet their favorite player all from the one article.

On the advertising side, not only will we be able to add video and music, but we will be able to create more interactive ads. For example we can do a promotion that would allow a user to shake the device much the way it’s done on an iPhone app to find out what they won. So instead of everybody getting the same deal it might be that the first 30 customers who access the ad may get 50% off where as the others may have to settle for 10%. That would certainly incentivize the consumer.

The new format will certainly be more entertaining and interactive make print sexy again.

  1. Tracking

As advertisers it has been very hard for us to monitor whether our print ads are working or not. All we have are human tabulated ways to account for an ads exposure. We ask our customers how they heard of us. Sometimes they get it right, but often times they don’t remember or remember incorrrectly. Was it the radio? The tv? Or the newspaper? As a culture we get our information from various multimedia sources in a given day. Keeping track of where we heard things is the last thing on our minds.

With print moving to digital, we no longer need to ask our customers where they saw us. We will receive access to analytics that will give us instant feedback if our ads are working or not. They will give us more information on consumer habits and behavior allowing us to make better advertising decisions.

  1. National publications will localize

Currently it is cost prohibitive for local advertisers to buy advertising in large national publications. It really is overkill if you only want to capture a small market. By moving to a digital format, national publications will be able to offer local rates easily. They won’t incur additional print costs to customize their publication regionally or locally and they will have a more niche reach for their advertisers. A good example of this may be that one of the local sports books may want to promote to a male demographic. They could choose to advertise in Sports Illustrated and still have it be cost effective to reach men in Reno-Sparks.

To better attract local advertisers national publications will also be able to localize content. Just as it is easy to change advertising, the same can be said about content. Using the same Sports Illustrated example, we would be able to get content on a local topic like the Wolf Pack.

  1. Micro publications will germinate

In much the same way that the Apple app store has made it easy for individual programmers to sell apps in the Apple store, digital print will make it easier for people to create their own publications. Creating a publication from scratch is most often cost prohibitive due to printing, distribution and production costs. If a majority of those costs are eliminated, we would see more small, specialized publications develop. Writers would be able to drop their content in a page layout friendly program and the system would distribute to subscribers.

  1. Cost

Obviously cost will be the biggest change. By reducing at least half or more than half of the cost to create a publication, print can be a viable business again. Over the last few years we have seen many layoffs and shutdowns in the print industry. Content has suffered and in many ways we as a consumers have lost our voice. By eliminating hard production cost, versus human production cost, I believe we will see a reversal of this trend. Print will be viable again and we should see more publications develop.

Some may argue that the digital tablet will kill print. This was the same argument some people made in the early 60s about tv destroying radio. Yet today, we still have both. And both have evolved dramatically from their initial form. Print will never go away, but like the other media it must evolve. In this evolution, it will create change and opportunities for everyone.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

can average Joe's make kick ass Super Bowl commercials?

Doritos is at it again. For this year's Super Bowl television festivities, Doritos is hosting another contest with the best fan-produced spots airing during the big game. This concept of letting "non-Madison Avenue" types create the coveted Super Bowl spots seemed cutting edge a few years ago, now it smells just a little gimmicky.

Gimick or not, they are handing out real money to the winners (last year's duo got a cool million and launched TV careers). This year they're giving away up to $5 million with $1 milllion bonus for spots that take the top spots in USA TODAY’S consumer driven Super Bowl Ad Meter. The question is, should we professional advertising folks feel threatened by the success of these average Joes?

According to a USA Today article that ran after last year's Super Bowl we should:
"It wasn't just the Arizona Cardinals who met their match in the Super Bowl — so did Madison Avenue. And it could be a game-changer. For the first time, it wasn't an ad agency that created the best-liked Super Bowl commercial. It was two unemployed brothers from Batesville, Ind., whose ad for Doritos — created for an online contest for amateurs — won them $1 million from Doritos maker Frito-Lay, and leaves ad pros with a lot of 'splaining to do."

Well, I for one am not shaking in my slippers quite yet. First of all, I just watched all the Doritos finalists spots and they're just not that great. (The one with the little kid threatening his mom's boyfriend was kind of cute). When I see really good advertising, whether print or TV or online, I feel it in my gut. A pang of "I wish I had done that," or "I wish I had a client who let me do that," or "I wish I had the budget and the client and the talent to do that." I get jealous. These spots aren't making me jealous.

Second of all, I've done this advertising stuff long enough to understand that good ideas can come from anywhere including from a Pastor in Whittier (one of the Dorito finalists).

Third, you can put lipstick on a pig. I'm not saying any of the Doritos spots are "pigs", but they have been dressed up with good production quality and casting and I'm guessing the pastor didn't shoot the spot himself.

So, this year I will again tune into the Super Bowl with a cursory interest in the game and an acute interest in the commercials. And I hope something I see hits me right in the gut, even if it comes from someone who has never even heard of Madison Avenue.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Smiling at advertising

The new American Express commercial “Don’t Take Chances. Take Charge" makes me smile.

It’s the spot featuring ‘smiles’ made of everyday items in places all around us like bathtubs, hangars, zippers and fences. It suggests that having confidence in your credit card is comforting and therefore smile inducing.

Every show I watch is Tivoed, so I have the option of avoiding commercials altogether. But when the AmEx commercial comes on I watch because it makes me smile and it makes my 5 year old son smile. It has even inspired the two of us to find our own smiles.

Gio and I have found smiles at breakfast, smiles on our bike commute and smiles in the bathroom. The “smile commercial” has put us on high alert. We look for smiles everywhere we go. In one afternoon at a park we found five smiles. Here are some of our smiles.

This commercial does not make me want to get an AmEx card. It does not even convince me that their card is better than any other credit card (I had to watch the commercial on YouTube to glean what the ‘marketing’ message was), but an ad that inspires me to mimic it is pretty impressive nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Power of Pink – How a cause co-opted a color and made a difference

This fall, while walking in my third Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk, I passed some of the time by really taking in our 2500 person pink parade. I began to wonder how breast cancer was able to successfully commandeer a color that every little girl, Crayola box wielding kid and femininity-flaunting woman could claim prior ownership to.

“Taking Pink” actually happened by accident in 1990 at The Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure in Washington D.C. Event organizers randomly handed out pink visors to the 8500 participants. Some participants attached pink ribbons to themselves for the event and The Komen Foundation took note. A year later in the Race for the Cure in New York, The Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons to every participant, from that day forward the pink ribbon has become the symbol of support for breast cancer awareness.

Fast forward 18 years and I am not sure anyone could have predicted how the pink ribbon and its signature color would affect people’s philanthropic activities and purchasing decisions.

We have all seen the sea of pink products in the stores leading up to Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. This year, you had the opportunity to purchase pink can openers, George Foreman Grills, Cartier watches, tic-tacs, chapstick, and Yoplait containers with pink lids, to name a few. Each of these companies has realized the power of cause-marketing and the benefits of aligning their company with the fight against breast cancer. They are also able to distinguish their products from their competitors and give their consumers an opportunity to support a cause by purchasing everyday items.

This cause-marketing has proven problematic for some companies. Take EsteĆ© Lauder and Yoplait as examples. Both companies have been contributing to the cause and promoting breast cancer awareness for years, but they do so by selling products that actually contribute to disease. EsteĆ© Lauder refuses to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, which ensures their products contain no chemicals, such as parabens, that are known or strongly suspected of contributing to the disease. Yoplait’s annual campaign, Save Lids to Save Lives, donates ten cents for every pink lid that is mailed into the company to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, up to a maximum amount. However, Yoplait makes yogurt from cows treated with rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), which recent studies have shown can be linked to an increased risk of breast, colon and prostate cancer.

These examples are in the minority, however, and don’t diminish the incredible impact that the pink movement has had on the average consumer and its ability to impact a purchasing decision that serves the greater good. When we see pink on a package or product that doesn’t normally sport pink, particularly during October, we know it means breast cancer support. And we can make the decision to purchase that product as a way of showing our support for that cause. Pink also compels masses of people who have been affected by this devastating disease to go to great lengths to raise money, awareness and commit to personal sacrifice as a means of personally having a hand in eliminating breast cancer as a life threatening disease.

For three days in fifteen cities across the US, thousands of women and men, wear pink as a badge of honor. Pink wings, boas, wigs, cowboy hats, leg warmers, beads that leave your skin pink, tattoos and pink bras outside of their shirts. Most importantly, the mood is decidedly pink, as well. Not dark and somber as you might expect when dealing with an often fatal disease. At these events, pink has become the color of survivorship, hope, resolve, celebration, honor, gratitude, fellowship, commitment and love.

Thanks to Susan G. Komen, the color pink has become a powerful communication tool, the symbol of a great fight, profit generator and educator. As October comes to a close, many might be happy to see the pink products replaced with holiday items, but for this marketing professional and breast cancer awareness advocate, I will always be amazed at the power of the pastel and how it has compelled me to change.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Looking Forward

The end of an experiment

At the beginning of May this year, Estipona Group set out on a six-month virtual agency experiment. As we approach the end of the “experiment,” I have looked at the data and reached a conclusion. My business can flourish in a virtual environment.

As for proof of our success, I point to our efficiency rate as an agency. Prior to going virtual, we worked one month with the new web-based software. During that month the software measured the team’s efficiency rate at 100%. The software derived this number based on estimates compared to actual hours spent on a job. From the beginning of May to the end of September, our average efficiency rate has been 148%.

Another indicator of success is our collective improved quality of life. While I have no scientific numbers to support this, I can personally say that I spend more time with my family and feel less anxiety than I did five months ago. While I may find myself working the same amount of hours, I am able to better break up my time to accommodate my family. As for the other members of EG, I just noticed that Paige is no longer screaming at me everyday so I can just take that as a sign of improvement.

Finally, you can’t argue with the bottom line. In the five months that we have been away from the traditional office environment the company has been able to save $50,000 in office related expenses. This has definitely assisted in improving our margin during a time when others are seeing a decrease in margins.

So what have I learned during this experiment?

I’ve learned that clients don’t care where you do business as long as the work is on strategy, on time and on budget.

I’ve learned that to make a virtual environment work you must work twice as hard on your communication skills.

I’ve learned that technology does not always work the way you planned, so you better have a back-up plan.

I’ve learned that you don’t need a fancy building to do insanely great work.

Finally, I’ve learned that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the best people in the world – people who I am proud to have on my team.

This is not the end, just the beginning.

While the experiment has ended, I believe that this is only the beginning of a new journey for Estipona Group. The one common theme in this economy that I have notice is that ALL THE INDUSTRY FORMULAS ARE BROKEN. Just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will work today. With that in mind, we have two choices, either sit back and wait while others create the new formula or be proactive and create a new formula that works for us. Obviously, we have chosen the latter.

While it is still early, we have seen others in the industry taking a similar approach. We know of at least one established ad agency that had decide to go virtual since our experiment began and we see others in other industries moving in the same direction. Last week, the RGJ reported Deloitte & Touche Reno, an established accounting firm, has announced that their 18 office staff will be moving virtual. While this may not indicate an overwhelming trend, it is evidence that perhaps we are on to something with larger implications than our own little agency.

So from this day forward, our blog will no longer be titled “the six-month virtual ad agency experiment.” Moving forward, our new title will be “EG Hatching – Ideas and observations about modern-day marketing”.