Category Archives: Marketing and Media

Having fun can be good for business – seriously

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Sometimes, as marketers, we take ourselves WAY too seriously.  Having a little fun can be a great way to break from the pack and enhance your brand identity.

wheres the beef

Overly serious messaging with the tonal equivalent of sucking a lemon can get a message across but can also miss a great opportunity to connect with the audience and to break through in a crowded environment.

I’m not talking about Bud Light ha-ha slapstick funny – there’s lots of that out there (and a lot of it is not particularly funny).

I’m talking about funny that connects to someone as a person.  There’s a difference.

  • When done right, viewers are thinking “they get me! – they’re talking to me”

Exhibit A – Sprinkler Supply Store

I ordered replacement gaskets online from a sprinkler supply company.  They arrived and all worked out.  End of transaction.

  • Then I got their ‘welcome’ email with ‘Huge Announcement’ in the subject line, signaling that I was now in their database
  • This should have been an invitation to unsubscribe, but the way it was done, I now look forward to future emails! I like them!  How did that happen?
  • Here’s the copy:

    “Listen up folks! David is joining us from…

    but no one could hear the rest of the announcement over the clamorous applause. Bells were rung. Balloons were dropped. “It’s Raining Men” blared from every speaker.
    Simply put, adding you to our Sprinkler Supply Store family was cause for immediate celebration, everyone is thrilled you’re now a customer. Thank you!”

  • It made me laugh – – and it worked (actual email below)

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 3.25.12 PM

Exhibit B – UberConference – World’s Best Hold Music!

If you’re waiting for other people to join your UberConference call, you will hear music about…being on hold.  First time I heard it, I laughed out loud.

Here’s a company that essentially force-feeds hold music saying “hey, we rely on hold music and even WE think it sucks!”  In other words, they get it.

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 10.26.35 AMI’m On Hold” was written and performed by Alex Cornell, an UberConference exec.  Sample lyrics: “Well, I’ve been sitting here all day/I’ve been sitting in this waiting room/And I’ve been waiting on my friends/Yes, waiting on this conference call – all alone/And I’m on hold, well yes, I’m on hold/I hope it’s not all day”.

Check out the YouTube video below, and check out the comments.  That’s a great connection.

 

Exhibit C – Sheetz (a 600-unit, 65-year old mid-Atlantic convenience/gas chain)

Convenience stores connected to gas stations are many, varied, and mostly interchangeable.  Not this one.

  • Sheetz prides itself on its Made To Order food and has long taken a light touch with the family name, selling “Shwingz” (wings), “Shmuffinz” (breakfast sandwich), and “Shweetz” (baked goods). Their ads have historically been funny.
  • But their recent “I Want it All” (Queen cover) regional ad is an over the top statement that they’re different – – complete with air guitar – – and that they get where you’re coming from (we all know it’s just a convenience store – – lighten up – – ours is pretty good)
  • It made me laugh – – and it worked.  Official video inexplicably not available – – bootleg version here.

 

 

Exhibit D – Buick Enclave

I am not a Buick guy, but I did a double-take with a current spot.

  • In the base spot, a suburban dog-walking woman corrects the Buick owner by identifying her dog as a ‘Bernie-doodle’, a nice send-up of dogs as status symbols

Base version
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA-I-cN9mh8

‘Dog Walker’ version

  • In this pool out, they up the ante on the dog owner status. Fido is now a “Golden-English-Labra-Irish-Bernedoodle Retriever–with the temperament of a Pug

screen-shot-2018-07-02-at-7-52-49-am.pngScreen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.53.51 AMScreen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.54.04 AM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYoq2epAXG8

  • It’s funny! I know lots of dog snobs – – hey, I’m one myself!  And it worked to give Buick a more relatable identity (the only Buick owner I know is Mom).  Without the gag I would have not paid attention.

Exhibit E – Southwest Airlines safety announcements

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.58.10 AMScreen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.58.53 AM

  • Everyone is familiar with these (classic example in the video).
  • We all know that pre-flight announcements are routine and that no one listens anymore. Southwest has always done a great job of using humor to relate to its customers on an equal level, rather than a formal ‘we’re in charge’ approach, and in addition to being fun, it breaks down the barriers that might otherwise exist in a sometimes stressful activity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07LFBydGjaM

Great marketing messaging creates a connection with the viewer – – to demonstrate that the advertiser understands who their target consumers are, and what they feel and need – – and that this empathy presumably translates to a belief that they can better meet your needs.

Humor, in addition to helping break through the clutter, is a very good way to create that direct connection, and maybe help bring that prospect a little closer to being a customer.

Of course, there are some situations where humor is just not appropriate – – serious life issues, mean-spirited, sexist or condescending humor, things that appeal to only a miniscule narcissistic sub-segment of society (copywriters), and stuff that’s just not funny.

Funny-and-Clever-Spicy-Food-Ads-11

So remember that, like hot sauce, while it can spice things up, not everyone likes humor the way you do, it doesn’t go with everything, and if used too aggressively, it can ruin what you were trying to improve.

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Facebook is Actually Not Free

This is our monthly installment of ‘Delayed Grasp of the Obvious’.

Just before Facebook Week last week I volunteered a point of view that was posted in Kevin Coupe’s excellent retail blog MorningNewsBeat.com, questioning that as FB doesn’t charge, how can it compensate users for breach of their private data?  (the letter is shown below).

Fair enough question and we saw Zuckerberg, Sandberg & Co. take some baby steps last week after the Congressional rotisserie.

But I made a huge error when I said “Facebook is free already”.  Palm to forehead.

Facebook is not free.   Nothing is free.

As has been famously stated and variously attributed, ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.  Meaning, there’s always a hidden or implied cost or quid pro quo with anything positioned as ‘free’.

In Facebook, you don’t pay cash, you pay with something much more dear:  YOU.

In fact, Facebook, and all other ‘free’ sites, are not benevolent social facilitators, they are essentially match.com-like dating sites that try to hook up advertisers with hot to trot consumers.  Except you don’t volunteer things like ‘long walks on the beach’.   All you do is go about your daily life, posting and clicking, and your profile is created in the background, with data you didn’t even know was being collected.

Basic stuff, but really brought home by the latest Facebook issues, which look to become a watershed moment in privacy practices.

As a marketer doing anything online, understand that your future efforts to connect with consumers is going to have to deal with increasing amounts of skepticism, where consumers make a more informed decision about whether hitting that last click-bait article, or signing up for something that looks free.
– and increasing privacy laws will likely mean greater disclosure and more overt opt-in requirements.

As a consumer, realize that online you are first a commodity, not some company’s friend, and you need to take exceptional care of YOU.

The days of ‘free’ services are waning.  And this is not just another conspiracy theory.

MNB_Logo1_257x98
April 6, 2018

I liked this email about the Facebook situation from MNB reader David Tuchler:

So here’s the thing: any normal business that screwed up or compromised its customers’ privacy or violated any other customer rights would be compelled to offer some sort of make-good (morally if not legally). If the laundry scorches your shirt, they cover the cost of the shirt or give you a credit. Even Equifax offered a identity protection service, even if it was sort of a ‘honestly, you can trust me again’ thing. The point is that the injured party is somehow compensated.

Facebook is different – it does not collect revenue from its consumer users. So even with millions of its users’ confidential data breached and a market cap of $464 Billion (that’s over $200 per user or $6000 per affected user), does Facebook have a responsibility to somehow make things right? And how would that even happen? In-kind gestures (we’ll extend your subscription another 3 months) doesn’t necessarily work here – – not only because FB is free already, but I don’t want any more FB – – I actually want less.

This is one of those areas where the law hasn’t kept up with the fast-moving nature of online activity (sort of analogous to the online sales avoid sales tax loophole). To the extent these social media companies have no avenue to make things right, I would have to agree with the European direction of requiring more strict and obvious safeguards and opt-in mechanisms so that risks are made clear and users can make a more rational judgment on whether to join or not.

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‘Facebook Real’ can help you handle fake news – – from your friends

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As you may have heard, social networking giant Facebook today quietly announced the test marketing of an updated version, called Facebook Real, with the stated objective of improving the Facebook user experience.

Facebook ratings

Facebook has always taken some flak about its negative effects, so this seems a worthwhile goal.  But cynics as we are, The Armchair MBA feels Facebook Real is just a misdirection play to divert attention from the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal (CEO Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the US Congress in the near future).

In any case, this is an example of how a seemingly innocuous reason-for-being (exploit the constant human needs of attention and affirmation to create an online community and attract eyeballs) can instead have the opposite effect (while also creating an international political scandal).
In today’s online world, nothing is 100% predictable.   Or even 50%.
——

Since its founding in 2004, Facebook in 2017 has reached over 2 billion active users and a market value of over half a trillion dollars (although the recent scandal chopped about $50 billion – !! – off its market cap).

Along the way, however, the effect of never-ending positive posts from friends combined with lack of personal interaction has drawn increasing criticism for its negative psychological effects – – leading to a press release in December 2017 from Facebook’s own researchers admitting that sometimes people “felt worse” after spending time online.

FB Research

Facebook has itself experimented with a ‘dislike button’ (which they call a ‘downvote button’) to give users some measure of control.  But this hasn’t gone anywhere.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/facebook-is-testing-a-dislike-button-called-downvote-with-select-users

Downvote 2

How will Facebook Real be different?
Facebook Real is a different way to help some users better cope with a continuous stream of positive posts, while still staying connected.

It is well known that the carefully curated posts of acquaintances’ positive experiences – – an accomplishment, a great vacation, a financial windfall, a celebrity sighting, etc. — are in reality your friends’ personal Highlight Reels.  No one has a life as fabulous as any single person on Facebook, let alone everyone combined.
Indeed, as the Facebook researchers noted, “reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison” – – in other words, feelings of relative inferiority.

 

Facebook Real takes a different approach that is elegant in its simplicity. It essentially attempts to make feeds more representative of real life, including the ups as well as the downs – – and relies on Facebook’s seemingly endless personal data trove, combined with some remarkable algorithmic programming.

FacebookReal

In the test, every 2 or 3 actual positive posts from a person will be supplemented by one ‘fake’ post that is designed to reflect the realities of life. These ‘reality’ posts will be woven into the feed naturally, based on what Facebook knows about you.

For example, if Person A posts ‘my daughter is on the honor roll’ followed by ‘my husband just achieved his karate green belt’, or ‘got first row tickets to the Final Four’, it will be followed by a random post that Facebook has created but which is based on the person’s actual life.
If Facebook’s data shows that this person has, say, experienced a drop in credit score, a mortgage default, a threatening blackmail note from a spurned co-worker, a pet that failed obedience training, or a child that was recently bailed out of prison, this will be skillfully used to create a real-looking post sent from that person.  The ‘sender’ will not be aware of this ‘faux post’.

fb - final

The result will theoretically provide a break from the incessant stream of positives and show that everyone actually deals with real life, leading to a more interested, engaged and stable universe of Facebook users.

The downside is of course that Facebook Real relies on leveraging ever-increasing and ever-intrusive data on its users, which is not consistent with current attitudinal trends.

Look for more information on Facebook Real in coming weeks, and please contact The Armchair MBA if you suspect you may be in the test group. We’ll (anonymously, of course), provide an update in a future post.

Super Bowl Ads – The REAL Best and Worst – – and why

A week ago the impossible happened – a Super Bowl that was WAY more exciting than the ads.

Still, duty calls – – it’s taken a week to fully process the advertising train wreck but the result is worth the wait.

The Armchair MBA carefully analyzed the reviews of 10 respected entities (plus a timid peep from Harvard Business School), summarily ignored them and can now announce the REAL best and worst ads of 2018.

SB 2018 Montage

Super Bowl spots, in particular, need to stand out in a hyper-charged environment, create water cooler (social) chat to extend the brand, and ultimately move the brand forward.

Clicking on this chart will blow it up so you can see where everyone came out.

Included at no extra charge – charming, witty, pithy bons mots!  It’s so worth it!

Super Bowl 2018 ads

We generally subscribe to the ADPLAN evaluation system set up by the Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Attention, Distinction, Positioning, Linkage, Amplification and Net Equity).

Tide

First, a few general observations:

  • When everyone does anthemic feel-good ads to set themselves apart from the competition, everyone starts looking the same.  In some cases I was moved almost to tears and had no idea which brand I should hug.
  • I have a dream that in the future, companies won’t feel compelled to stretch to co-opt (read: exploit) a universal good (cancer research, disaster relief, first responders, and BABIES!) to draw attention. Winner (loser) by a long shot in this category – – Ram Trucks.
  • LCD humor apparently remains a reliable go-to for advertisers (see: Febreze, M&Ms).
  • Not as many animals this year (no Clydesdales, Doberhuahua or Puppymonkeybaby), BUT we still had more than enough with Yellow Tail’s ‘Roo, TurboTax’s monster under the bed…and Steven Tyler.
  • Personality counts a LOT! Morgan Freeman continues to define ‘Maximum Possible Q Score’, Peyton Manning is a reservoir of humor and credibility (especially since the divorce from Papa John), and Eli, he of the permanently blank expression, will always be the little brother.

Selected Best Ads

  • Echo (Amazon) – – witty, creative, great cameos, and the product is the whole point
  • Doritos/Mtn Dew — great pairing, both products and performers, with a high fun factor
  • US Olympic Committee – – in the grand tradition of Up Close and Personal, terrific effort at personalizing the competitors (particularly important in light of current controversies).  Incorporating childhood photo/video a big plus.
  • Tourism Australia – – in a head-fake worthy of Doug Pederson, grabs your attention and keeps it
  • Tide (It’s a Tide Ad) – – P&G threw a long ball with several executions of this campaign spoofing other campaigns (see above), and scored. The premise of ‘if it’s clean, it must be Tide’ could not be more spot-on (pun intended)
  • Rocket Mortgage – – humorous, relatable, and highly relevant to the product
  • Sprint – – a bunch of robots who make the logic work, and then crack wise, make it a strong spot

Selected Stinkers

  • Ram Trucks – – #1 stinkeroo. Someone thought it would be a good idea to use the words of MLK Jr. to elevate…a truck. Shame on Ram Trucks, and shame on the MLK family, for that matter.
  • Squarespace – -in a way, they’ve become sort of a reliable companion in the stinker category.  This year, we had Keanu Reaves riding a motorcycle standing up and…pontificating.
  • T-Mobile – – a high-concept ad which pans over a multitude of infants, and unsuccessfully tries to make some sort of connection to the product. Creepy.
  • Febreze – – ironically in the stinkeroo category. Maybe the man’s *** don’t stink – -but that doesn’t mean the copy is something you want to be around
  • NFL – – I’m apparently a voice in the wilderness here. Most people found the Eli/Odell pas de deux a charming play off the iconic Dirty Dancing scene. I just thought it was forced, clumsy and unfunny.  Plus, not sure what the message was.

Maybe like the E*Trade commercial says, I’m just getting old.

Battle of the 2017 Super Bowl Ad Reviewers

Battle of the 2017 Super Bowl Ad Reviewers

Last year The Armchair MBA presciently foreshadowed our country’s potential slide into anarchy – – and we take no pride in noting that we appear to have been right.

Be that as it may, this glass case of emotion that we call the US must go on, and of course the Super Bowl is still the tentpole of our national identity.  So in the spirit of national unity, we herewith put forward our ratings and reviewer compilation of the advertising from this year’s Brady Bowl (or as some might call it from the Falcons’ perspective, the choking chickens Bowl).

super-bowl-montage
And as a perfect reflection of society, there is very little agreement among the dozen major reviewers we looked at.  This year we’ve added a feature of averaging the critics’ scores so you can see how YOU stack up.

At the bottom of this post is a chart comparing major reviewers for all the spots run during last Sunday’s game.
NOTE: ads are grouped by my rankings of green/yellow/pink and are now ranked by the reviewers’ average within those groups.

A few observations (all Super Bowl ads can be found here):

NO ANIMALS THIS YEAR!  Unless you count the dead (Spuds McKenzie), the 2-dimensional (Yellow Tail wine) or the sidelined (Rob Gronkowski).  I miss these furry diversions and was hoping the lack of reliance on a lowest common denominator would indicate lots of great spots.  Alas, twas not to be.
But there were some themes at work…

itsa10

High concept does not necessarily make for great advertising. The Armchair MBA is not a fan of co-opting a high-minded theme just to make a statement- often comes off as stilted or forced.
– Audi, 84 Lumber, Budweiser, AirBnB, and It’s A 10 Haircare (I know – who, right?) all went for the high road by tying into the topical (often sideswiping the President, the Real DJT).
Unfortunately, for this image-driven work to be effective it needs to create a strong link to the brand among a group that might be interested in the product (this is advertising, after all).
– It’s A 10 Haircare is a new brand and while their ad was cheeky and visually interesting, they could have done more to tell us why we should care.
– 84 Lumber is a regional competitor to Home Depot and Lowe’s and ran an emotional immigration spot that, partially due to network censorship, required a visit online to see the conclusion.  The average demo for this vertical is male/50, not necessarily a strong bet for following up online or changing their go-to building supply outlet without a reason. It did generate brand awareness, though.
– Audi made a passionate pitch for gender pay equality (with no apparent reason given for why this is related to Audi), then undermined the message by putting Dad (not Mom) in the hot sports car.

walken-timberlake

You simply cannot go wrong with Christopher Walken. He did it for Kia Motors last year, and this year changed sponsors to team with a deadpan/mute Justin Timberlake for one of the best-received spots – for Bai Antioxidant Drink.

mccarthymalkovich

Actually, celebrities were out in force, probably to the greatest degree ever, and generally to good effect.  In this high-stakes, high-octane environment, celebrities provide one of the only reliable ways to guarantee eyeballs. In addition to Walken:
John Malkovich’s arresting visage gave Squarespace breakthrough
– The Coen Brothers directed a Mercedes-Benz spot featuring Peter Fonda
– Kia traded Walken for Melissa McCarthy (and a few draft picks) for a generally entertaining spot for the new Niro
– A newly nerdly Justin Bieber drew attention for T-Mobile in his own polarizing way
– Other celebrities included Terry Bradshaw (Tide), Cam Newton (Buick), Kristen Schaal (T-Mobile), Lady Gaga (Tiffany), Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg (T-Mobile), LeBron James (Sprite), Morgan Freeman (Turkish Airlines), Tom Brady, even Bill Nye the Science Guy!  And the list goes on (including a slew of very amusing high school yearbook celebrity photos in a Honda spot).

honda-yearbook

Generally well-accepted spots had breakthrough and were straightforward (usually with some humor)
Honda, Bud, Avocados from Mexico, Skittles, Ford made this list.  Inexplicably so did a Bud Light spot featuring an exhumed Spuds McKenzie.

bieber

There were also some universally unloved spots, mostly due to lack of wit, relevance or originality.
American Petroleum Institute (paaaarrrty!) headed this list, followed closely by the generic twins Fiji Water and LIFEWTR, Yellow Tail Wine, KFC and Michelin.

Finally, our annual check-in with Weather Tech – for this, their 4th effort, they did kick back and have a beer (not while driving) and the result was a looser, more fun spot.  Well done.

This table compares 12 major reviewers, who clearly do not all see things the same.  (did you really expect Vogue to feel the same as the WSJ?) 
Simply click once or twice on the table
 to make it readable.

superbowl2017

Footnotes:
My evaluations are generally based on the Kellogg ADPLAN approachAttention
–Distinction
– Positioning
– Linkage
– Amplification
– Net Equity – – along with some personal gut feel.

Reviewers and links to reviews (if you were involved in any of the reviews and feel I got something wrong, let me know):
Kellogg Graduate School of Business – Northwestern University
Adweek
Ad Age
Bleacher Report
Chicago Tribune
Entertainment Weekly
The Guardian
New Yorker
USA Today
Variety
Vogue
Washington Post
Wall Street Journal

That’s it for this year – – as always, with The Armchair MBA, you get what you pay for!

Plus, I want that new Alfa Romeo.

See you next year!

Making Sense of the Unexpected

By now everyone and his mother/brother/horse has opined about how Donald Trump, inarguably a petty, bombastic vulgarian, climbed to the highest perch in the land (at least from a status/power standpoint).

trump

So I will chime in, with a very able assist.  Professor Tim Calkins (Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University) has defined Trump’s ascent as an example of the concept of benefit vs values.  In short, people are attracted to and identify with values but ultimately vote for benefits.  A link to Prof. Calkins’s piece follows below.

Before that, however, a thought on how this can be applied to marketing.  Values may be good, but not necessarily sufficient to make the sale.  Strong clear benefits have a better shot.

A good example was provided by colleague Harvey Chimoff, regarding an innovative round paper towel (Ora Paper Towels) that provides dual benefits of one-hand grabbing and environmental benefit (no cardboard tube).  Scores very high on the innovation scale (although I remember round beach towels long ago that allowed rotating to catch the sun without moving your towel – – was interesting but didn’t really catch fire.)  Actually, this design ultimately proved unique but not trademarkable.

round-towel
As it relates to Ora, seems that the values are admirable but perhaps not earth-shaking enough to generate a change from the old familiar cylinders (higher cost; where do I put this stack; etc)

Regarding values vs benefits as a motivator: the Clinton campaign had sort of a feel-good, I’m with her, we’re on this bus together sort of feel but didn’t seem to have at its core a defined cause/benefit that people really were passionate about and willing to make a stand on. It was almost literally, vote for no change.

clinton-celebrities

The Trump campaign (and Sanders’s, for that matter), had at its core a group of people who were feeling disenfranchised, mad as hell, pitchforks and torches handy, skin in the game, and willing to hold their noses and vote for change. (hmm…sounds a little familiar…)

trump-supporters

In the end, seemed like a much higher level of passion, frustration and motivation (and maybe desperation) among Trump voters. And they acted on it.

And now, Professor Calkins’s adroit dissection:

http://timcalkins.com/brands-in-the-news/marketing-observations-on-the-trump-victory/

Clip and save for the next election!

April 1 is when the ad guys (and gals) REALLY get creative

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Many of you know that at The Armchair MBA we have at times indulged in a bit of tomfoolery, and April 1 is no exception.

The best April 1 pranks are those that have the initial feel of legitimacy, but as the reader continues there is a point where it just goes too far.   Like the frog that ultimately boils, when well done it’s sometimes hard to pin down the exact point of departure from truth.

MelaniaCare (last post) was one that, while fabricated, we have started to believe ourselves – – and it might come true yet.

The attached was also discovered on April 1 so posting here.

FITBIT® introduces Step CreditsTM

But the real prize is this collection of April Fool’s Day pranks, compiled by Lisa Lacy of Momentology.  If you have a moment, these delightfully demonstrate the magic that results when creative and devious minds are working for themselves and are liberated to listen to their own inner gremlins, rather than trying to placate some client.

http://www.momentology.com/10210-april-fools-day-marketing-moment/

Bon appétit!