Say you dig musician John Mayer and want to chat, perhaps to find out why he said some strange things about dating in a recent Playboy interview. Good luck, of course: John’s famous, you don’t have his phone number, and if you try Twitter, well, you’ll join a throng of 3,052,153 people who follow him — of whom John only follows 80 back.
So ping Tom Lee instead.
Tom Lee, you see, is one of the least-well known people John Mayer follows on Twitter, and there’s a good chance Tom would connect with you, respond to your tweets or even take a call. Get to know Tom, you might get to know John. Such “social graph analysis” is part of a growing trend supported by free tools such as Twiangulate and HiveMind. ReadWriteWeb has a terrific overview of the services, which can lead to freaky-cool findings. Twiangulate, for instance, allows you to compare the online networks of up to three people and then sort them by “smallest tweep,” so a reporter trying to chase down Al Gore for an oil energy story could compare who he follows on Twitter vs. friends of Exxon’s top brass. That common person probably has a few good stories about Al Gore and energy giants. Or you could find an unfamous person followed by both John Mayer and his ex-flame Jessica Simpson and take him out to lunch. Maybe with Jessica.
Hmm. The idea of someone being able to sift through your own network may seem Orwellian, but then, you knew information wants to be free, didn’t you?
When design student Alex Cornell was given the assignment to reinvigorate a dying brand, he first thought of a clothing line from his middle school years. And then a spark. Why not reboot Playboy, once the pulse of American maleness?
The joke, you see, is some people claim to read Playboy for the articles, which no one today believes … but back in the 1960s it was true. Alex writes, “Playboy was once regarded as a sophisticated and classy magazine for the modern gentleman. It attracted all of the best writers and was a beacon of style and culture … I imagined a Playboy comprised solely of articles, devoid of nudity (or images of any kind) — something that people would have no choice but to read.”
Alex’s blog post provides a brilliant narration of his thought process, at first a fox eating the classic Playboy bunny, then deemed too violent, the fox becomes an iconic replacement to bunny ears and bow tie. His most interesting analysis is how the audience moved on, awash in a world filled with laddie magazines and Internet porn … and how some brands like Playboy must thus move themselves if they don’t want to drown in a competitive tide. As Dirk Singer at London’s Cow notes, will someone now please give Alex a job?
The hit AMC show Mad Men did more than advertise on Playboy.com this week — it took over the site, recasting the photos and other content to an early 1960s’ flashback. The main page featured drink mixes from the ad days of yore, and the archives focused on the old issues back when bunny ears got guys riled.
This is no silly case study: the mixing of advertising with editorial content is becoming common as publishers and broadcasters struggle amid declining advertising revenues. News Corp. COO Chase Carey said recently that “we have an ad-supported business model that doesn’t work,” namely that as consumers shift to the internet and social media, online advertising fails to keep up with old 30-second spot dollars. The main broadcast networks have sold $1 billion less in primetime upfronts this year, down from $9 billion in 2008, and all television revenues are expected to be off 10-15% in the coming year.
Advertising still works, but measurement methodologies are vital to identify the waste. Old forecasts of impressions, GRPs and CPMs aren’t enough as consumers start tuning out with new technologies. Don’t believe us; just look at Playboy.
Wired editor Chris Anderson spoke at SXSW this week, arguing again that pricing on all products and services will flow to the free as the internet matches supply and demand more efficiently.
As evidence, we give you Playboy. The publishing empire, which has been severely threatened by free online alternatives, announced today it will post 53 issues from 1954 through 2007 at a free Playboy Archive web site, unedited, with no age restrictions. Now — if you’re still reading and haven’t clicked through, stay with us, people — this is a perfect example of Anderson’s freemium model, where a large portion of your services are given away in exchange for a small group of customers who pay. Marketers could learn from this move; rather than fight online competition or piracy, learn to coexist with free models while building future demand for paid services.
As if you’re still reading this.
Santa remains a powerful tale because your grandma told your mom and she told you. And if you think back, the story freaked you out as a kid.
We thought of this over lunch reading how an artist named Haddon Sundblom created the iconic image of a rotund man in a red suit in the 1930s for Coca-Cola, riffing on earlier cartoons by Thomas Nast. Soon Santa was everywhere in marketing. Camel ads touted a good smoke. Necco candy wafers showed Santa’s head popping out of a box. Painter Sundblom even put an unclothed woman in a Santa robe on the cover of Playboy magazine in 1972.
Beneath it all was word of mouth. Santa became folklore because he was the exact opposite of the robber barons and business fat cats who were blamed for the Great Depression — a powerful leader who gave riches away instead of keeping it. In the economic recovery after World War II, U.S. consumers were ready to shop. A rich dude handing out stuff? Sign us up and we’ll tell the kids!
Santa is a good story because he has a dark side, too.
Negative tones make messages more credible. Chung-Ang University in South Korea ran a study asking 143 participants to shop online for digital cameras and movies. Sure, those who read 100% positive reviews thought more highly of the product. But the study revealed that participants exposed to 20% negative reviews and 80% positive had the highest shift in opinion toward the source — the dose of ire made the story irresistible.
The point for marketers is that advertising fails if the message is purely controlled and purely positive. Consumers are suspicious; they’ve heard it all before; and if you don’t allow any negativity to touch your product, you may not be remembered.
Santa remains successful because he has a bit of darkness in his story; he creeps into homes at night, he might punish you if you’ve been bad, he could use bariatric surgery, and come on, the man nibbles on cookies without cleaning up the mess. The original 1880s cartoons by Thomas Nast showed St. Nick holding a pipe, not a Coke. So how can we forget? Like a secondhand whiff of cigarette at a hip party, a little naughtiness makes the message feel more right.
Call it a new form of cocooning. With financial markets in the tank, most retailers face a pinch this holiday season — but sellers of intimate-related goods are finding, well, a good time.
In New Zealand, Wendy Lee, director of the sex gear retail chain Dvice, says sales are up about 20% this year with consumers moving to more expensive, big-ticket items (whatever those might be). In England, sales of Durex condoms are up 22%, making us wonder whether Brits are cuddling in fear or just trying to avoid the high cost of children. And sales of lacy things remain strong in the U.S., with a Forbes analyst noting Victoria’s Secret should be immune to the spending declines afflicting other clothing retailers. Lace, it seems, does well no matter how cold the weather.
The only dark cloud on the intimacy front is Hugh Hefner may be laying off bunnies at the Playboy mansion. The UK Telegraph wrote, “Hefner has been advised to cut back on staff … to cope during the global economic turmoil.” Apparently when faced with reality, consumers want to do more than just read about it.
Whatever you think about porn, it’s a leading indicator of where your business is going.
This week both Playboy and the distributor of Penthouse U.S. video got hammered in the business press for lackluster results. The Street.com downgraded Playboy stock to a sell, and Motley Fool said New Frontier was having trouble pitching its X-rated movies because, well, too many sites give porn away for free.
The irony of all this is brand porn names led the way to the web. Then, information moved to the free, competitors gave away better content, and the old business models faltered. Purveyors of porn are now being followed off the online cliff by newspapers, magazines, the recording industry and TV broadcasters. Who will follow?
In the past businesses made a profit by removing friction. In essence, a huge rocky expanse lay between where goods began (say, risqué photos or news from India) and where consumers consumed them. If you could bridge that gap, you made money.
We know what the internet did to content models. So here’s a test. What about your business? Can any parts of it be made purely digital and easily created, duplicated or copied? And if someone does, and gives that away for free, what will happen to your profits?
(Photo: Playboy cover from 1966.)
Sure, Zinio. Use Playboy to get our attention.
Zinio offers magazine downloads to your computer or laptop that retain the exact layout of the magazines in their shiny paper glory. The trick is you still have to pay for the electronic copies (Macword is $19.97 for 12 issues, Cosmo $12 for 12).
This spring, Zinio has a special promotion allowing iPhone users to subscribe to free magazines, from BusinessWeek to Playboy. Zinio does have a beautiful Reader program, and using it you can’t help but realize that most HTML layouts still suck. While online layouts have lousy composition and encourage you to click away on any link that triggers your ADD, magazine layouts are designed in a beautiful chronological fashion.
Zinio probably hopes that users of new, better mobile screens will get hooked on magazines that look like the real thing in their hand. Maybe, but we’ll see if these users pay once the promo is over.