Monthly Archives: May 2009

A brief ode to dying newspapers

The bad news for newspapers keeps coming. Thousands of observers have now become “death of newspaper bloggers,” but it’s obvious that the proliferation of desktop computers, laptops, and cell phones have made sheets of smudgy-inked paper obsolete. Dirk Singer, our PR friend over in London, has perhaps the simplest explanation of why papers are in trouble — readers have moved online, advertising dollars have not followed, and for every paper that tries to charge readers for content online, there are 10 others that won’t.

However, journalism will obviously survive. Blogs, including this one, can’t make up for dedicated, real reporting. Someone has to interview people, wade through documents, and see what’s really going on.

The second problem with newspapers failing is the potential absence of editors who help select news stories they think you should read. Admit it. If you didn’t have an editor at The New York Times telling you about starving people in Africa, you’d certainly never search for it.

The economics are changing, and huge printing presses and the associated costs with chopping down forests will have to go away. Perhaps there have always been too many journalists — one reason why the starting salary for editorial assistants is often below $20k in the U.S., because dozens of people have always clamored for every single job.

The job market will shrink. The papers will move online. There will be fewer advertising dollars. It’s all inevitable. But the role of real journalists, and real editors who help pick the stories you need to see, will always be around. The only ray of light we see is the tightening market may actually improve journalistic quality, as the best of the best fight to remain, sharing via dedicated expertise what happened in the world today.

Photo: DRB62

Why marketers avoid religion (a cautionary tale)

A debate on Twitter tonight made us realize that most commercialism skips right over religion — because people may disagree with the message. And that points out a danger in any brand communication.

First, consider the irony: Marketers want to reach the masses. The masses believe in religion. Yet religion is taboo. The longest story ever told is one about God, and most people believe in him (or her). One study shows that only 2.5% of the world’s population count themselves as atheists and 12.7% as “non-religious,” leaving the remaining 6 out of 7 humans to follow a higher power. But advertising messages usually avoid even hints of spirituality.

What gives? You see occasional campaigns like the one above, for the Collegiate Churches of New York, pushing a specific religion. But the varied nuances of belief mean honing in on one message could offend everyone else. Religion is avoided for the same reason marketers don’t talk about politics or taxes. Pick one side and you just can’t win.

The lesson here, of course, is any marketing message is polarizing, and advertising of any sort may be pushing away as many people as it attracts. That’s right — and no one measures this! Marketers miss this because they only focus on responses, not the unknown masses who don’t call in or visit a web site … and who may be deeply alienated by your message. It’s a good thought grenade to put on your ideation table as you play with brand communications: what could backfire among all those who fail to believe? Are they just ignoring us? Or are they rushing to the other side?

Metrosexuals are dying! Brandweek said it’s true!

We try not to rehash the industry press, but this is too good to miss. Apparently the well-groomed type of guys who think a product is something you put in your hair were never as numerous as marketers thought. That’s bad news for CPG companies, who upon discovering metrosexuals in the 1990s began pushing lotions and gels previously meant only for women onto the more hairy side of the population. (More consumers + more hair = more hair product sales!) David Rubin of Unilever marketing told Brandweek, and we quote, the metrosexual “is still there … but as a population, he’s actually very small.”

Hmm. Did marketers just suggest size matters?

It could be metrosexuals remain everywhere but are cutting back in the recession. No matter. Replacing the dude with the fancy gel is a more Neanderthal type whom marketers have reclassified — pay attention closely, class — as “the everyday guy.” You know, guys like you who borrow their wives’ lotion. P&G knows you do, because it studied guys’ grooming habits in the shower.

Don’t look at us. We’re strictly Googlesexual.

NYT retouches Polaroid

Remember the days before Photoshop? When the photo you snapped was what you got? NYT reports Polaroid, bumping through bankruptcy, may be reborn in the Netherlands as a group of investors takes over an abandoned factory. The crux of it all is Polaroid SX 70 and 600 series film, required to make those sliding squares pop out of the instant cameras and about to go the way of dinosaurs, may come back.

The resurrection appears not done yet, so NYT is rallying a movement by inviting readers to email old Polaroid snaps (via scan, or photo of the photo) to This should be fun.

Canadian Club loves your dad. But can you measure love?

Alan Wolk, one of our favorite pundits, notes ad campaigns are often held to unrealistic standards. “For years success and failure have been finite notions in the ad business,” he writes. “An ad either worked or it didn’t. A campaign was a resounding success or a dismal failure…”

But is it logical to judge advertising so quickly?

Take whiskey. Canadian Club has been running a wonderful series of print ads that move beyond the product to the complex relationship that its consumer target, men in their 30s and 40s, have with their fathers. The gist is your dad had lots of whiskey-fueled adventures before you were born, so lad, pick up the booze your dad used. We don’t drink whiskey (well, unless we’re in Nashville), but this message has made us rethink it. We miss our dad. Canadian Club has created a clever emotional frisson.

Now imagine measuring the success of this campaign. You could track responses (difficult), variances in media performance (more difficult), consumer awareness (is the brand now more recognizable?), and of course product sales. You could even believe the wild claims of the agencies who create such stuff, as they build their typically inflated case studies to submit to an awards competition. But in a land of millions of product choices, chances are Canadian Club’s message will just lightly break through, as good as it is.

And that’s OK. In many ways advertising is now a required cost of business, a messaging platform to keep up with competitors. The days of positioning, where you could grab a unique rung in consumers’ heads, are dying as product choices overwhelm our mental inventory. The question now isn’t whether consumers rush to respond; it’s what would happen instead if you went invisible and consumers failed to consider you at all.

We’re not ordering whiskey tonight. We won’t jack up Canadian Club sales tomorrow. But next time we’re in Nashville, we may give dad’s drink a try.

Wolfram|Alpha’s AI experiment

Why is the sky blue? We ran this and a few other questions by the new search engine Wolfram|Alpha today. Wolfram|Alpha plays around with 10+ trillion pieces of data to make knowledge computational — if this, then that; this vs. that; if this occurs, what happens then. You know, what are the relationships between things. It’s a valiant attempt at artificial intelligence, and fills a void between Google’s vast search of static items and social media search of chat in real time.

Alas, this alpha thing feels more like beta. Wolfram|Alpha fails to answer basic queries and is still a babe in the woods of intelligence. It reminds us just a bit of Chris McKinstry’s effort to build a vast artificial consciousness that could answer simple yes/no questions. McKinstry never got close to passing the Turing test, and eventually committed suicide.

Designing intelligence isn’t easy. We look forward to seeing where Wolfram goes.

Wolfram|Alpha demo here
. Image: Gari Baldi.

Skittles, ‘stunting’ and sustainability

Remember when the Skittles home page became a Twitter feed and the advertising world went nuts about it? Skittles captured 1% of all Tweets. Everyone talked. Brilliant.

A few weeks pass and now Skittles is back to zero. One of our critiques of social media campaigns is too many try to either buy into human networks (paying bloggers money or gift cards or charitable hooks for written mentions) or they “stunt” their way in. Stunting means pulling off a one-time idea that goes viral out of sheer novelty, but never can be repeated.

Are any of these approaches really sustainable? And if not, what can you do to maintain a message in the online idea marketplace?

What to do with all that advertising data

So with newspapers dying and even banner ads becoming problematic, it’s astounding that most marketers still don’t measure. Sure, you may have metrics in silos — CTRs on the web, GRPs in broadcast, CPMs in print — but typically each marketing silo is tweaked independently for performance.

Could you be missing the big picture?

The table above shows just this — a $1 million advertising schedule that is kicking off about 80% in return. What’s that, you say? The return seems to vary in each line? Well, of course. If you grouped your advertising media into 10 equal buckets (called “Media Groups” above) based on their performance in generating sales, you almost always find a 20-to-1 range in what works. Media Group 1 above performs horribly, losing money. Media Group 10 is rocking.

If this were an investment, you’d call your broker and say buddy, move my money around to what works. Kind of like this …

Much better. We’re still investing $1 million in advertising, but now the total return has jumped from 80% to 204%. We’re making more than $2 million in return instead of just $795,000.

We didn’t spend a dime more. We just made measurement meaningful.

So here’s a question for your marketing team. Are you caught looking at CTRs and conversion rates and CPMs and GRPs and reach and frequency, and not doing a damn thing about it? In this economy, it may be time to rebalance your entire investment portfolio.

Find more thoughts on ad measurement in our whitepaper here.

Twitter fans, meet Tipjoy, your new tweeting bank service

Ever notice what is missing from your cell phone? You can call, text, take photos and even surf the web — but does your mobile device carry money?

New Twitter applications may change that. Third-party services such as Tipjoy allow you to send real money via Twitter, by loading up an account that taps your credit card. Since Twitter works great on cell phones, it soon could be a backdoor for mobile phones to finally replace your wallet. Tipjoy has cleverly launched with a carrot that could attract big marketers to further promote the micropayment service: it touts charitable giving as one use, the perfect platform for cause-marketers trying to buy their way into social media buzz by raising money for charity.

Twitter itself is down with that, even promoting Tipjoy on its home page just below your follower count. If you like the ironic thought of Twitter, so often criticized for failing to monetize, eventually becoming a vast, speedy, mobile backbone of the global currency system, please tweet us $100.