Monthly Archives: June 2009

Why we’ll miss Dos Equis’ dos demos

In summer 2007 Euro RSCG/New York launched the most original beer spots we’ve seen in a decade: “The Most Interesting Man in the World” for Dos Equis. Now the spots are likely nearing the end of their flight, which would be sad, since they brilliantly resonate among two very different demos.

The protagonist is a Hemingwayesque man of all men, shown in flashbacks as a thirtysomething with black beard benchpressing women in short skirts or waking up a party simply by walking into it. The spots flash-forward to present, with the older, wiser, silvered father figure saying he doesn’t always drink beer, “but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”

We admit, the commercials stir something in us, which shows how easy it is for any guy to slip into the target demos. Thirty- and forty-something men aspiring for something more exotic or senior men in retirement longing for a bit of adventure can all see something uplifting here. Sure, it’s just a beer. But who doesn’t want to be questioned by the police just because they find you interesting?

Brand framing: Not you, not them, but the box in-between

We told a friend today about price framing, the old Richard Thaler psychological concept used in most retail pricing in which products go “on sale.” In price framing, marketers invent a fictitious high price — say a dress marked at $250 — and then draw a line through that to convince you the product is now on sale, 50% off, at $125.

Price framing works because people are bad at judging value and feel almost relieved when you give them a place to start. The “savings” of course is fiction — after all, you’re spending more than one hundred bucks and not saving a dime — but you feel good about it. Credit cards out. Ka-ching.

This made us think about brands and whether they could try brand framing as well — you know, comparing their innate values against a competitor’s supposed bad ones. If good-deal-bad-deal works in everyday pricing, why not good-brand-bad-brand perceptions as well? In this haggard economy we’ve seen a little of this recently: Microsoft-fueled laptops touted as less expensive than Apple Macs; the new Bing search engine positioned as a better alternative to the Google stalwart; WolframAlpha as smarter than Google. Brand framing is a nuance within the realm of positioning, the classic brand vs. brand battles first conceived by Al Ries and Jack Trout in the 1972 pages of Advertising Age. You don’t have to read their book; just watch the 1980s “Where’s the Beef?” Wendy’s commercial and you’ll get the drift.

Brand framing recasts your brand’s potential flaws — Microsoft’s previously clunky laptops or search, WolframAlpha’s unknown potential — by making your competitor seem less good. Note the competitors in these examples are the leaders on top: Apple’s beautious design, Google’s miraculous instant answers. Brand framing differs from positioning in that rather than capture a new rung on the mental consumer brand ladder, we’re here while the other brand is there, you focus on the distance between the rungs. They’re wasteful/slower/expensive/missing something and we are not.

It would make a cool whiteboard exercise: draw a box between your brand and the leader you want to catch — then fill it with all the negatives that might push that brand away from you in the minds of your customers. If it all sounds a little nasty, remember that sometimes success in marketing is not about giving consumers pleasantries they’ll like, but helping them avoid the perceived harm they don’t want.

Image: Gabriela Camerotti

Iran observers vote #cnnfail

CNN felt the wrath of crowds this weekend when the cable network skimped on news from Iran. Reports popped up elsewhere that Tehran had riots over a potentially corrupt election, yet by late Saturday CNN still had scant coverage.

So Twitter filled up with irate protests followed by the hashtag #cnnfail. “Users of the microblogging service were incredulous at the near total lack of coverage,” wrote Daniel Terdiman in CNET, by “a network that cut its teeth with on-the-spot reporting from the Middle East.”

Was it all hyperbole — hypersensitive Americans overreacting to just another mangled foreign election? Perhaps. But it’s a warning sign for any business that crowds are out there watching, armed with new social media technology, ready to hold you accountable. Today, two days later, is following the Iran protests carefully as the top story.

Image: Olivier Laban-Mattei/AFP/Getty Images via


The first time we saw a Mini Cooper we had a visceral reaction, a tingling shock, the same feeling we got in kindergarten walking into school on a crisp day in fall and discovering our love for the red-headed teacher.

It made no sense. The tiny car was sitting in a dirt parking lot, next to a baseball field where we were coaching little kids to no avail, but the lines and paint and headlights did something to our soul. The body had a touch of awkwardness, beauty was not immediately apparent. But we knew. We wanted one.

Why do people fall in love, or lust, or madness over something new and unique and unusual? We’ve personally gone through a series of crushes: the first Porsche we saw in high school, our first leather jacket, Swiss Army watches, and in one corporate job an entire series of suit jackets that looked good in the store … but not so hot in the closet later. The instant crush is the reaction every marketer hopes to get from his or her audience. We’ve started reading Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior, the book by Geoffrey Miller in which he argues people consume goods we don’t need because we have biological desires to signal our status, or sex appeal, or intelligence or creativity to others. After all, most of us are done mating by age 30, yet we buy fancy watches and cars and houses and shrubbery until we die.

The things we want are a reflection of who we think we are. But beyond that basic desire, what creates the frisson of love, the feeling some get when they saw the first new Beatle redesign, or The Beatles in concert? What is it about some lines in products or people that make us want them? The feeling usually fades. We’re wondering if it can be put into a bottle.

We’ll have the 1960s Corn Flakes, please.

Marketers often chase consumers as if they were individual targets, like apples to be shot with an arrow.

But what about context? What if that apple is floating in a sea of changing demand? Consumer response is often swayed by environment, and environs swing wildly. Gas-guzzling trucks in the 1990s vs. efficient hybrids as we near 2010. Long-haired macho inspired by free love vs. short-haired crew cuts inspired by corporate wars. Ties vs. T-shirts. Paisley vs. plaid. If global warming turns out to be real and oil rises to $200 a barrel, or the world re-cools and gas falls back to $0.50 a gallon, how will consumers change then?

Design is in the air around us, pulled by vast winds. Does your marketing plan map contingencies for potential storms in the next decade?

Graphic: Guardian. Via: Swiss Miss.

We predict Twitter spam filters are coming soon (thanks Squarespace, Spymaster)

Adweek editor Brian Morrissey notes that marketers are rushing to get into the “stream,” the communication flows inside Twitter and Facebook. Unfortunately what is good for any single brand — lots of paid mentions — tends to gum up the ecosystem.

Can you say “someone will soon build a social media spam filter”?

Squarespace is this week’s case study: The web publishing service is giving away 30 iPhones this month to consumers who tweet #squarespace in their Twitter message. Squarespace has succeeded wildly, capturing 1% of all Tweets as of today with about 170 mentions per minute. But you can almost feel the groans as people read message after message with an unknown brand stuck into it. Spymaster drew similar ire a week ago when it launched an online game that sent spammy messages across the Twitter network.

We’ve been down this road before with telemarketing (see Do Not Call lists) and email (see your computer’s spam filtering software). Every new network is virgin territory for marketers to go too far. We fully expect Twitter, or a third-party such as Tweetdeck, to launch filtering capabilities soon to block out unwanted messages.

This is no knock on advertisers (hey, we work at a media planning agency); it’s simply the normal evolution as the lack of initial cleverness of marketers shouting inside emerging human networks leads consumers to rebel. As for getting people to talk about your brand inside social media: Dare we suggest you try to become relevant?

Facebook offers vanity URLs, but for brands, what’s the point?

As a public service announcement we remind you that Facebook will allow you to grab a vanity URL starting Saturday morning at 12:01 a.m. Eastern. This is supposed to help people find you, or your brand, on Facebook more easily, since up until now Facebook-specific pages were complex URLs with long strings of numbers impossible to remember.

Of course all of this poses the question of why some brands want Facebook pages at all. Facebook allows businesses to build “fan pages” which mirror human profiles, and usually end up awkward compilations of photos, user comments, and press releases. Bank of America, for example, has 6,139 retail branches in the United States and holds $791 billion in domestic deposits — and yet has only 1,650 “fans” at its Facebook page. The top comment at the BofA Facebook fan page today says “Citibank will work with you but BofA does nothing. Their execs should be executed in public!” (Ahem. We quote.)

If consumers and business partners care so little about their money on social media, perhaps Facebook fan pages aren’t for every brand. It is possible, perhaps, that Facebook will evolve into a web inside the web, a social-media operating system so popular that not having a presence there would be a strategic mistake. The average age of Facebook users is now 27, and social media use has been creeping up (Twitter users average age 31 and LinkedIn users are 40). With 200 million users at Facebook, perhaps there is marketing gold inside those online pillow fights. So go ahead, grab your URL. Think of it as a low risk and probably very, very low reward investment.

How free video uploads will drive down CPMs

2009 will be remembered as the year online video arrived, and it will force media moguls to drastically reduce the prices for ad inventory. You see, Apple unveiled its latest iPhone Monday with video-recording capability, making it easier than ever for consumers to upload movies. On the receiving end, Cisco expects online video streaming to quintuple internet traffic over the next few years. Put it together and consumers will capture content, share content, and then watch it, making all the ad space that used to fund professional media production worth less.

So far marketers, still shocked by recession, aren’t flocking to media buying opportunities. Nielsen just reported that U.S. ad spending fell by $3.8 billion, or 12%, to $27.9 billion in Q1. Marketers are retrenching in part because consumers are not buying as much stuff in this down economy; but marketers are also getting smarter with their investments, and they are not putting ad dollars in media vehicles where they cannot measure ROI.

Total ad spending doesn’t tell the whole story. Fewer ad dollars don’t necessarily mean fewer ads — just less bloated spending for Super Bowl broadcasts. The real tale is one of commoditization — advertising is becoming another product that is valued less by society. For instance, Adweek editor Brian Morrissey points out standardized web banner ads are ignored by consumers, forcing online marketers to either use ever-more intrusive formats or to fall back to performance-based, cost-per-click type buys.

So the price of advertising will begin to fall

What happens when your product becomes less wanted and your shelves are filled with it? Why, you have to lower prices. The supply of ad inventory is increasing, as slots become available on millions of blogs, within social media, even tied to Tweets. At the same time, consumers demand less advertising as it is deemed irrelevant to the content they wish to share. The trend is visible already both in traditional media (radio networks seeing falling ratings are being forced to reduce rates) and online (as ad networks offer CPMs in the $2 range).

More ad space. Less demand. Lower prices. There’s an opportunity coming to advertising as new bargains emerge; the question is, as advertising becomes more challenging, do you have the right systems in place to measure what really works?

Cup holders and mothers’ milk: When your product surprises you

A few years back Volkswagen sent its German designers to the U.S. to study American driving habits, and they ended up shocked about us Yanks’ obsession with cup holders. German carmakers still don’t get it; a colleague of ours drives a Mercedes, and the cup holder is a Rube Goldberg-type thing that unfolds vertically from a slot between the seats, obviously a design afterthought.

Michael Martineck of The Truth About Cars wrote that cup holders go deep into the reptilian (oldest) parts of our brains and our human itch for security. Michael quotes cultural anthropologist G. Clotaire Rapaille: “What was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid. That’s why cup holders are absolutely crucial for safety. If there is a car that has no cup holder, it is not safe.”

The lesson for marketers is we often act like German auto designers enamored with our unique engineering … without thinking about the psychological thirst of the consumers who will buy the product. Customers often use goods in vastly different ways than the original marketing plans intended. Play-Doh began as a wallpaper cleaning tool. Hot dogs started as a slur against cheap sausages on Coney Island suggesting they contained dog meat. The Honda Element launched with a wink-wink campaign telling young drivers about surf-friendly fabric and fully reclining seats … and Honda was surprised to find the average buyer a father in his late 30s with young kids who just wanted to haul stuff and clean up spilled milk.

If what customers want is warm liquid that conveys security, you better build it into the product.