Monthly Archives: February 2008

In case of crash, make coquettish eye contact

Speaking of communication design, Delta’s flirty new in-flight safety video follows the psychological rules of human attraction. You see, people the world over use certain expressions to arouse desire. Women smile, lift their eyebrows, and gaze directly at you, and then look down and away to hint at shyness. (See woman in seat at video second :32. Really, we don’t make this up.) Men take a different approach; to signal strength, they lean back in their chairs and stick their chests out, like the captain here at the Delta helm. In fact, chest puffery is found across nature — snakes, frogs and toads also inflate their bodies to demand attention.

(See: Your boss.)

Which brings us back to how good creative captures attention, say, among passengers stressed out that their plane may come to a sudden stop against a mountain. Delta’s little vignette grabs consumers with basic cues — full lips, flirtatious hand waves, and lots of eye contact. We’ll remember that as we hug a seat cushion to our chest and jump out the exit.

Why media planners are (not) better than creatives

We get phone calls occasionally from students who want to know the difference between creative agencies and media planners. We explain that for advertising to work, you need both (a) strong communication design and (b) a detailed plan on where to put the message. After all, you’re not buying advertising; you’re really buying a customer. If you don’t have a media plan on how, where and when to reach the customer, it all won’t work.

Ah, but then we admit — creative is just as important. The best designers we know think of communication in algebraic terms, even if they claim to be bad at math. Consider the creative below for Westport Country Playhouse, a regional theater in New England, focused clearly on a new demographic target: women in their 30s and 40s who make decisions about dragging their husbands out to the theater (where the men may discover a really good time).

This creative shop, Plaid, focused a simple print campaign on a keen logical flow: most theater ads talk about products (the play); so to reach a new audience, let’s talk about the experience (the date). The result breaks through, and ties offline media into a sexy interactive campaign.

We recently met with another agency, O’Halloran, who focuses on Yellow Pages strategy. (Yellow Pages, for the uninitiated, is an extraordinarily complex beast, and careful planning can free up hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad placement.) They noted a research study that showed people are influenced to respond to a print ad based on information, ad size, graphic design, and color. Subtle changes in copy alone can affect 79% of the people who see the ad.

The point is good design really has no incremental cost. You need to pay for creative anyway; but the selection of a shop that can move people to emotional response with a logical response pathway, or simply mail in a horrible layout, can make all the difference.

A timely proposal: Let’s move to 48-hour days

So after a day that felt like 48 hours filled with alarm kids bus commute coffee email calls proposal deep think blogging office jokes client service more traffic school concert bed story and finally a glass of wine with some nice cheese that smelt like old socks, it occurs to us: What America needs is a move to 48-hour days.

The idea of a 48-hour shift is so blindingly obvious we’re surprised no one has thought of it before. First, don’t tell us it’s silly; Americans already do a spring-and-fall shift clocks an hour ahead-or-back thing vaguely related to dust bowl farming, and none of us remembers why. And second, some of us already do long days. They’re called medical interns, and they stay up for 48 hours or more a pop usually right before they circumcise your young child, and since physicians are close to God, who wouldn’t want to emulate them?

The real power of the 48-hour day lies in the benefits. Just think of the possibilities. You could work like a madman, two 10-hour shifts, with time left over for a long lunch, recess and a siesta. Commuter traffic would be cut in half as we all schlep to the office for longer days less frequently, reducing your gas bill, saving the planet, and easing pressure on all those bridges built in the 1950s that are about ready to collapse. Family values would return as parents reunite with children, spending 10 or so hours a day reading books and playing soccer, and divorce rates would fall as spouses learn to flirt with each other again. IQs would rise as we all snuck in an hour to read Shakespeare.

Ah, but the best part is what happens if we keep 365 of the new, longer days in each year. Your age is cut in half, because suddenly it takes two of the old years just to reach one. Are you now 40? Welcome to age 20 again! Sure, no one will reach age 65 to retire, but that saves the U.S. government from the looming social security crisis, and your 401k isn’t doing so hot, anyway. And as we are all forced to drink more coffee in the 48-hour days, Starbucks will return to growth mode, impulse purchases will skyrocket, and the U.S. economy will be pulled out of the looming recession.

Think of the joy. Christmas and summer vacation will come twice a year. You can finally sleep in and still have hours to work overtime and restart the exercise program.

It’s time, America. Let’s get on with 48 hours, stop moving the clocks around each spring and just recognize we need broader windows to cram in everything that we need. And as we begin to find enough hours in the day for longer dinners and walks in nature, those silly French will finally envy us.

Google slippage, or how to predict a decline

So analysts bashed Google stock today after seeing that pay-per-click ad revenue is slipping. We’ve noted that Google Trends shows global searches for common phrases are sliding as well, with demand down about 50% in the past four years. Seems Google is also playing with its formulas to wring more money out of click budgets — a potential sign of desperation. Google may be in decline.

Which brings up a point: Why can’t anyone see changes like this coming? Take any infatuation — AOL, Google, MySpace, Facebook, widgets, real estate, the 17th century tulip craze — and people jump in as if the ride will last forever. But the reality is almost everything in life follows a bell curve path toward the future. By the time you hear something is hot, chances are that same something is about to peak.

Look at your own life. If you work in marketing but aren’t CMO or agency president yet, you’re probably in your 30s or 40s, have rising income, good job prospects … but chances are, eventually your earnings power and title and circle of colleagues will peak, and then diminish.

In marketing, clients and agencies are always hungry for an edge, so they tend to disregard the future downward slope and leap into every bubble. We recently had the opportunity to talk with about widgets, and the reporter mentioned that everyone who produces these things proclaims them to be the future of marketing. Uh-huh.

Don’t get depressed. Just, when planning your future, remember that what goes up must come down.

Brilliant VC idea of the week: TweeVee

Darryl Ohrt at Plaid has a killer concept for a new broadcast medium: TweeVee. Imagine a television broadcast where you can also see a stream of comments running across the bottom of the video, posted by your circle of friends or professional colleagues.

This is no small idea — it actually recognizes how consumers are now using media. ESPN has reported that sports fans watch television while simultaneously using cell phones to pull other scores or text results to friends. A few days ago a brilliant friend of ours spent an evening posting hilarious Twitter comments about the Obama-Clinton debate. Why not pull this multiple media use into one simple screen?

Send VC funding inquiries to Mr. Ohrt here.

How Malcolm Gladwell conceived ‘Blink’

Author Malcolm Gladwell has a wonderful piece about how he conceived the idea for his book on rapid cognition — the ability of people to make snap judgments, sometimes right, often wrong.

Believe it or not, it’s because I decided, a few years ago, to grow my hair long. If you look at the author photo on my last book, “The Tipping Point,” you’ll see that it used to be cut very short and conservatively. But, on a whim, I let it grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in very small but significant ways, my life changed. I started getting speeding tickets all the time–and I had never gotten any before. I started getting pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, while walking along 14th Street in downtown Manhattan, a police van pulled up on the sidewalk, and three officers jumped out. They were looking, it turned out, for a rapist, and the rapist, they said, looked a lot like me. They pulled out the sketch and the description. I looked at it, and pointed out to them as nicely as I could that in fact the rapist looked nothing at all like me. He was much taller, and much heavier, and about fifteen years younger (and, I added, in a largely futile attempt at humor, not nearly as good-looking.) All we had in common was a large head of curly hair. After twenty minutes or so, the officers finally agreed with me, and let me go. On a scale of things, I realize this was a trivial misunderstanding. African-Americans in the United State suffer indignities far worse than this all the time. But what struck me was how even more subtle and absurd the stereotyping was in my case: this wasn’t about something really obvious like skin color, or age, or height, or weight. It was just about hair.

Loyalty’s allure, or why you always park in the same spot

Look, we shouldn’t be seduced by brands, because after all we work in advertising and understand that brands are just designer coloring put on commodity products. But last night we were checking out reviews of digital cameras … and realized we were drawn to the Samsung, which looked a bit like the Samsung Blackjack smart phone on our desk, which had a similar red hue as the Samsung washing machine in our laundry room …

And we realized. Branding by Samsung got us.

How does this happen? Psychologists suggest there are three aspects of loyalty: affective (emotional attachment), continuance (the perceived cost of switching), and normative (the feeling of obligation). Marketing gurus such as Don Peppers explain there is a hierarchy of loyalty drivers: quality, then loyalty purchasing (the points you earn on your credit card), and ultimately personalization (which competitors find difficult to match). Marriage is the ultimate bond of loyalty, where psychological emotion (love) and sheer marketing convenience (she knows how you like coffee) make staying the rational choice.

But we think there is something more basic in loyal consumption, the same impulse that makes schoolkids take the same seat in class each day, or drives you to select the same parking spot. Humans are comfortable in ritual. In the transaction utility of a purchase (the juice you get by making a selection), picking something new yet familiar is reassuring. Apple is the brand that combines this best — you love the new iGadget, but you’re comforted by the past performance. Probably our ancestors who found safe shelter, such as a cave without snakes, and stayed loyal to it survived … while the brand promiscuous got eaten by a bear.

We can’t explain why our new phone matches the washing machine. Imagine that Samsung planning meeting — “Team, we’ll make washers that people buy every 11 years look just like our hot cell phones!” But dammit. With no emotional attachment, no switching costs, no obligation, no marriage vows, no points program … somehow brand loyalty just felt right.

Google results falling fast. Here’s why.

Google isn’t exactly bragging about it, but results from Google PPC campaigns are down across the board. Here’s what you need to know before kicking your internet marketing manager, and how to fix the problem.

1. First, the downward trend is real. Go to Google Trends, type in a keyword phrase, and Google will serve up a graph showing worldwide search volume. Search use at Google is down about 50% in the past four years for a range of topics including “advertising agency,” “heating oil,” “furniture,” “music lessons,” “office supplies” and “new car dealer.” It’s hard to get a real look inside Google’s black box, but play around with the Trends findings and you’ll see slippage in most categories.

This look at search trends for “office supplies” proves the point. If anything is constant in business, it’s that we all need paper clips and paper. When global search volume is down 50% for the bedrock of business … something is going on.

2. To make fewer searches worse, more competitors have jumped aboard to chase the reduced number of searchers. The glory days of being first out of the gate with a PPC campaign on Adwords are over. As competitors bid on your category, placement on the page remains difficult. A few industry bargains remain, including healthcare, where most hospital administrators have not yet discovered they can capture patients online in search engine marketing. (See: Pew.)

3. The likely scapegoats are new social media such as Facebook … but they are not to blame. A new report by Pew notes that social media has been around for as long as the internet (starting back with Usenet and electronic bulletin boards). Pew researched email use and found it has been almost constant from 2000 to 2007 (about 55% of internet users type email on any given day), showing consumers haven’t really migrated more to interacting with each other.

4. The real answer: Consumers are more savvy. Today about 68% of online shoppers now search at least four online resources before making a purchase decision — and all that clicking around drives up PPC costs. Mediapost reports that users are also gravitating toward reviews written by other consumers, not company paid ads, which helps explain the decline in Google search volumes.

It’s simple, really. More competition + smarter shoppers + consumers gaining control over product information = tougher PPC results. The only solution is to build more sophisticated PPC campaigns with bid management software and to extend your brand online with other entry points, such as microsites, blogs, and video. Search still works. But like everything else in advertising, now it’s going to take hard planning to make it work right.