Monthly Archives: April 2010

Starbucks’ long-form print impression

Centuries from now, if the Internet and all our iPadish digital culture have been destroyed by roving asteroids or neutrinos that heat the Earth’s core, we hope future anthropologists dig up this 28-page mini pocket guide to VIA powdered coffee from Starbucks, because it covers almost all of current Western Civilization. VIA, as you must know, comes in 12-packs of tiny tubes for $9.95 giving Starbucks fans a mobile morning jolt for only 82.9 cents per cup, provided you provide the hot water. This of course is a barrier to entry for coffee aficionados, who are used to dropping about $8 for a fancy java and pastry at the ambient-grooved Starbucks chain. So how can you convince hipsters to get the cheap stuff while not cannibalizing the core?

The pamphlet brilliantly teases with Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced uses for powdered coffee. The Meeting and The Red-Eye for novices (“You think airline food is underwhelming? Try generic airline coffee…”) explain the basics of capitalistic culture. The intermediate Soccer Game, Hotel and Aunt Harriet assess our peripatetic ambulatory relationships. And, our favorite, the advanced Guest Chair on a Late-Night Talk Show (“Wow. You’re culturally relevant enough to be asked…”) shows how we move up Maslow’s pyramid from greedy consumption to book tour self-actualization. It’s humanity writ large, written small. We’re guessing this brochure costs about $1 a pop, but since it’s picked up by only the self-selecting discriminant-yet-cheapo coffee fans standing in line at Starbucks, it’s a solid impression that tempts us to drop $10 on a packet of powdered coffee. Starbucks, all we can say is, nice marketing — and thank you for documenting culture for our children.

Forgiving Tiger, forgiving yourself

There’s some debate in ad circles over whether the new Nike spot, showing Tiger Woods apparently being chastised by his deceased father, is appropriate. We suggest the execution is brilliant — not just for the emotion which stops viewers cold, but for the colder media planning fact that about 41% of U.S. marriages encounter infidelity. In any given year about 10% of married people have sex with someone other than their spouse, and cheating is becoming more popular as Viagra, testosterone and estrogen supplements keep us all feeling fitter longer. The 19th most popular web site among U.S. men 35-54, core to Nike’s golf demo, is Google launched its web browser with a prominent privacy button to make surfing for porn less troublesome. America, you cheat.

Unfaithfulness is a sad and complex part of life, and anyone who knows anyone who has gone down that path realizes that pain, confusion, and redemption, not models or porn stars, are the real new partners. Spot producer Wieden + Kennedy has captured such angst perfectly. Do you like the creative, the disturbing emotion, the use of a dead man’s voice to sell golf equipment, the fact that Nike is softening the market for future, cleaner Woods advertising? It doesn’t matter: Earl Woods’ voice resonates because it’s talking to you.

Footnote: Nike chatter on Twitter shot up to 0.15% of all Tweets when the spot was released Wednesday. That suggests it’s working.

Mobile quote of the year

Apple announced its new iAd system today, which will interpose ads into the tiny apps now becoming the main gateway online from touchscreen phones. It’s an extraordinarily smart move, given that tiny cell screens are not suited for searching through Google’s main search portal — and that millions of consumers are learning to tap tiny colored icons to get everything they want from the mobile web. Yet here’s Steve Jobs explaining the move, as quoted in The New York Times:

“We don’t know much about the advertising stuff. We’re learning. We tried to buy a company called AdMob, the biggest mobile advertising company. But Google came in and snatched them from us. They didn’t want us to have them. So we bought another smaller company, Quattro Wireless. They are teaching us. But we are babes in the woods. We are learning as fast as we can.”

The Yelp transparency mistake

What should you learn from Yelp’s retreat today?

The business-review site Yelp has been getting smacked around by rumors that it rigged its review system, nasty allegations to be sure, perhaps a big misunderstanding from the small businesses it profiles who can be hurt badly by a negative appraisal or two. (Yelp has become a word-of-mouth powerhouse, now the 101st most popular web site in the United States with nearly 10 million unique monthly visitors. Imagine the angst if your little shop got a one-star rating on Yelp you didn’t know how to counter.)

So today Yelp announced it would back away from a key component of its advertising system: It will no longer allow advertisers to pick the first review that appears on their page — as in, previously if you paid Yelp cash, you got to select the best review for your own business and elevate it in the rankings, while your competitors who didn’t pay had to just suck up whatever consumers wrote. Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s co-founder and chief executive, was quoted in the NY Times as saying: “I hope that these changes will debunk some of the myths and conspiracy theories out there about Yelp and its advertising and whether those are linked.”

We’re not here to judge whether Yelp was wrong to previously allow advertisers to buy placement of favorable ratings; but we do note sowing confusion among customers is not a strong business model. Allegations are just that, and Yelp’s helpful business outreach manager Luther Lowe pointed us to 184 instances of Yelp advertising sponsors who had reviews stating “this place sucks.” The site boasts a complex business model that includes social networking, rewards for frequent reviews, “elite” status for the most loyal contributors, and a filtering system that must monitor more than 2 million business reviews for fair play.

To be fair, you try hosting that many rabble-induced ratings and see if you don’t tick off a few coffee shops.

But the lesson is clear: The perception of extortion, of unfair play, of biased material, of paid postings, is enough to break community trust. We heard it long before this latest news broke, months ago on a business trip in which a client raised doubts about whether to engage with the Yelp review system. “I’ve heard rumors that people pay to play,” she said, “and that model just doesn’t seem fair.” In an age of lightning-fast online tempests, the utmost transparency is required to keep your community happy. If you raise doubts about the rules of your game — say, by allowing some to pay to get better treatment in what is supposed to be an objective forum — you risk having to recut your business model.

Footnote: The New York Times asked its readers what they thought of Yelp. The responses show what happens when doubt catches fire.

Pulling demand forward

Why don’t ad people ever talk about sales?

They could learn a lot from Nabisco product packaging. While social media gurus may tell you today it’s all about engagement and conversation, we say buzz don’t mean a thing if people don’t buy your product, consume it, and then buy more frequently. (See: your paycheck.) If you follow this logic — that sales is the consummation of desire and so its lustful tipping point, the bite into the cookie, is pivotal to success, the eros induction of all your communication machinations — then we ask why is it so many people in advertising never talk about sales? Branding and positioning and narrative and, oh, in today’s buzz circles, curation all hype nurturing audiences as if the invisible tantric lovefest of people sometimes thinking warmly about you is enough to jack up next quarter’s revenues. But here’s the truth: advertising, while an accelerant, is only one piece of the operating funnel that turns raw materials into profits, and if the process doesn’t get pushed down through the sales closure you’ll be out of business and your consumers will be hungry tomorrow.

So why, oh why, if you invest in advertising don’t you deploy strategies to get customers to consume more? The tactics are many and yet typically underutilized: Bundle products together (think, a web site that offers a pack of three products with free shipping instead of defaulting to one order). Create design incentives for customers to pick up more than one good (see: cookie packaging above). Offer a subscription to several purchases instead of a single sale (dear NPR, if you’re going to nag us to donate, why not ask when we call for an automatic renewal of our gift next year as well?). Ad branding experts may recoil, as if we offered to put ink stains on their fingers or asked them to pick up a shovel, but it’s time to admit: Marketing leads to sales and sales are what matter.

If you’re not thinking about the connection between marketing and sales, you’re missing out on how to get more people to see and share your value. After all, 491 billion sold Oreo cookies can’t be wrong.

Evolution of theses: When technology pulls us apart

If technology is accelerating, and if technology is designed to fill niches, and if technology is adding appendages to your memory, motion and perception — is technology morphing you into a new species? A group incompatible with the rest of humanity?

Click between the chatter on MSNBC and Fox News and you may wonder. Speciation is the process by which new living types arise. In nature, this usually takes a while; humans and chimpanzees shared common genetic ancestors 4.1 million years ago, and we haven’t talked much since. But outside forces can accelerate speciation. If you own a golden retriever or a poodle, you have evidence that human intervention helped what were once plain gray wolves 12,000 years ago split into thousands of unique sub-species.

So here’s a question: What happens to humans if we accelerate our own path down specialized roles? Technology is making this possible, with laptops and cable networks and the Internet and iPad frames allowing us to push and pull only the data that reinforces our world views. This process is given momentum by marketers who seek to personalize content and offers to lift their response rates. Not everyone lives in the Internet bubble, of course, but media proliferation followed by fragmentation has been pulling aspects of society apart in other ways, both in the U.S. and across the globe. If you live in the United States, host a party with someone from Connecticut and Texas, then toss out “what do you think about healthcare?” and watch the sparks fly. (“It’s about time we helped the sick and poor!” “It’s a socialist ploy to destroy our Constitution!”) At the broader human species level, Western capitalism and Eastern communism fed the Cold War in the 1900s, and in this century Western liberalism and Islamic fundamentalism are causing the same terrifying rifts, a whiff that we might escalate violence to the point of destroying ourselves, all because people have differing mental perspectives.

Wars of perception are nothing new; the history of religion is filled with them. But what happens when mental perspectives can morph more rapidly, accelerated by the vast expansion in content, connections and memory coming from technology? People are becoming more than people, now with appendages called automobiles and keypads and mobile communications and Google replacing our feet, hands, voice and memories. As technology embeds itself further in our bodies, we can self-select the relational pathways that most interest us, and avoid all others who fall into differing perspectives. Your thesis doesn’t agree with mine, so I’ll shut you out and seek only those who think like me. Soon, as screens become more prominent than sunlight, I may decide to only see those who think like me. Sounds a bit like humans and chimpanzees headed for different sides of the hill, no longer interested in mating with each other.

Image: Express Monorail

Why you blather about curation

Digital strategist Len Kendall asked why people insist on using jargon that means little. We responded:

There are two driving factors that lead to big word BS syndrome: what I’ll call badges and signaling.

Badges are psychological reward systems in which you gain more points as you advance in an organization. Think military hierarchies, college degrees, and Twitter follower counts. These are learned systems in which participants have to struggle to rise, receive illusory badges or scores for achieving higher status, and are reluctant to give up that complexity since it provides the reward of accomplishment. Complex language in many cultures — health care, academia, business consulting — is a badge that is learned over time and shows you have entered the Inner Sanctum. This is why the worst writers in the world are usually college seniors, who have been trained to use fancier, laborious language in term papers to impress professors.

Signaling is the second motive, which is why so many speakers on panels at SXSW used the bullshit phrase “curating” this year. Curating is a fancy word for managing, yet using it signals you are on the cutting edge of the latest tweak in mental masturbatory business strategic thinking. Business consultants (some, at least) fall into jargonspeak as a way of showing that at the end of the day, net-net, out-of-the-box thinking leaps the chasm to a paradigm shift. The coloration signals smarts even if the words mean nothing.

My point is the human desire to achieve status and then signal it are not going away soon. We’ll be curating complex language for a while.

Image: Nebulaskin

The Outdoor rope around her wrists dug deeper

Erotic prose aside, what Internet hyperbolists fail to mention is that out-of-home advertising (billboards and the like) has been the second-fastest growing ad medium of the past decade. Outdoor slumped slightly in 2009, like everything else, but in the 11 years prior its share of U.S. ad budgets rose 242%, and prognosticators suggest outdoor will accelerate again with the expansion of new digital boards, LCD point-of-sale displays, and improved ad metrics that supposedly give marketers a read on the audience demographics likely to have made eye contact with a display. The Traffic Audit Bureau is rolling out an “Eyes On” system that uses video monitoring of passers-by eyeballs, 50,000 surveys of consumer travel habits, and a pinch of statistical magic to make outdoor ratings real.

Or so we hear. Outdoor still has significant challenges. Digital board units, which are rotated on electronic billboards every 8 to 10 seconds, are often priced at par with normal billboards — a rather interesting math stretch since drivers zipping past at 60 miles per hour are likely to miss 3 of the 6 units being rotated onto the new digital screens. Point-of-sale displays have a wonderful potential to provide customized offers to consumers as they near the checkout, most vulnerable to impulse buying, yet marketers have failed to find a way to provide any true personalization (imagine, if you will, a scanner that recognizes your grocery cart contains ingredients for beef stroganoff and so offers you the perfect matching red wine on sale as you roll up to the register). The inability to measure any direct response to outdoor messages makes marketers awash in Google Analytics gun-shy about throwing big dollars into a silent hole. And outdoor execution, which can be brilliant (see the OAAA Creative Resource Center for inspiration), is often abysmally produced by local auto dealers or hospitals whose cluttersome eyesores give the entire segment a bad name.

Marketers evaluating outdoor need more than fancy impression estimates: It’s a function of whether the media use fits your target demo, whether the modality of consumer interest makes low-cost frequent impressions an asset, and whether you can articulate your message in a few clear beats. For product categories where consumers rarely think about you until they suddenly need to — home insurance, automobiles, health care specialities — a low hum on the horizon helps intercept the untargetable. Soon, you can measure the real eyeballs perking up, too.

Via Scott Brunjes.