Marketing is broken, at least marketing as we know it. A non-marketeer dredges up the ugly and the beautiful in the marketing world.

Friday, March 04, 2005

When you don't know your target customer

The front page of assaulted me today with a half-page ad proclaiming, "Vin Diesel - Not Your Typical Soccer Mom". It's an ad for the apparently abysmal Disney schtick, The Pacifier. It then occurs to me - on the front page of THE premiere sports web site, they're pushing a Disney live-action comedy, presumably about some tough-guy having a hard time being a dad. And which visitors of care a shred about soccer moms? They have absolutely no clue who they think will go see this movie. That should be step 1, before the casting begins, before you put Vin Diesel, the consummate tough guy, into a movie that NONE of the people who really enjoyed him in "Pitch Black" or "The Fast and the Furious" would EVER want to see. Figure out who the audience is. They're hoping families will go see it, but are probably nervous that Diesel's tough guy image will drive them away, and the plot line of a secret service agent as a dad is tough to sell to kids without children for them to relate to (witness Spy Kids). So what do you do? Co-opt the power of the Disney-ABC-ESPN empire, and ram the message down the throats of a demographic who is least likely to see the movie.

First problem? Bad product. The big problem? They're still convinced that ubiquity is a viable substitute for proper targeting of an ad and a compelling product. They still don't understand that if someone doesn't care what you have to say at a normal volume, in a private place, following them around and yelling at them doesn't do much more than make them hate you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

NBA: how to alienate your customers

In a move that may further send attendance and popularity downhill, the NBA is preparing to announce a fan "Code of Conduct", where fans at a game can be ejected for something as simple as a "you suck" to a player. Nothing builds sales like telling your customer exactly how they can use your product. Funny how visting teams in an arena can weather the challenge of overwhelming cheers for their opponents, but can't take a few derogatory remarks in the line of earning several million dollars a year. I know plenty of people who could take 8 hours a week of heckling for a million dollar salary.

I'm not saying the customer is always right, or that it's not okay to fire a bad customer. Telling your customer if they can't say something nice about the product, don't say it at all in a league where the "employees" have highly publicized and largely undisciplined bad behavior is a pretty dumb move when your attendance is lackluster and you're asking them to shell out their hard-earned cash in large chunks.

Newsflash to the NBA - your customers don't NEED you. Telling the customers you have that you don't need some of them doesn't fix a thing. You have an image problem, but it's your customers mimicking the product.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Burning $12 million - the 5 worst

USA Today has their Ad Meter posted, listing all the ads and how they ranked. Let's look at the 5 worst:

Taco Bell - Chicken enchilada dropped on sports card collection.

Replay of an existing wide-release commercial that wasn't that funny to start with. This ad has been on for weeks, and making a few hundred phone calls or a few focus groups would have told them this ad is barely good enough for network prime-time, much less the biggest stage for ads in the world.

Bubblicious - LeBron James blows big bubble for Bubblicious.

LeBron James... and gum. The problem isn't as much the ad as it is that the pairing of LeBron and gum makes absolutely no sense. This mistake was made in the partnership, not the ad itself.

Anheuser-Busch - Introduction of Budweiser Select low-carb beer with no aftertaste.

Wrong ad for the situation. And perhaps not as bad as it was rated. Their goal was to introduce a product, and people got the point - they have a new, low-carb, light beer. Not sure it was worth the money for the airtime, though - this sort of ad is most effective drilled into people's heads with repetition. It didn't help that Miller launched the pre-game preemptive strikes against this product, saying they did their light beer right the first time.

Ciba Vision - People float in bubbles for O2OPTIX silicone hydrogen contact lenses.

I know they were also trying to introduce a product, but what does it do? After seeing this ad, I think there's some brand of contact out there called O2. I don't know why I'd want it. This money would have been better spent in marketing the product to eye doctors who prescribe it.

Napster - Feline icon at football game holds up sign comparing price of new Napster service with rival iTunes.

Napster is a broken brand, period. Anyone who used to use Napster is put off by their conversion to a pay service, and anyone who didn't use them before wonders what a "Napster" is, and why it has a strange white cat logo. 20 well-made Super Bowl ads couldn't fix this brand, much less a weak ad attempting to make people compare costs with iTunes.

My "Apprentice" Audition

I tried out for Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" TV show this weekend. In preparing for this, I found a dearth of information on their tryout process on the net, so I'm fixing that. The preface is that leading up to my audition, I waited for several hours - arrived at 8 AM, received a wristband at 9 AM, interviews began at 10 AM, and I finally got to the front of the line around 12:30 PM. If you're curious, I didn't make the cut, but I have a nifty "Apprentice" wristband to show for it.

Now about the audition. I'm putting this out here because honestly, I don't think it will actually help anyone game the system, but it is interesting. We were ushered into a room 20 at a time and seated at a set of tables configured in a rectangle - candidates on 3 sides, and the casting director on the 4th. He was a reasonably young-looking, [proud] Irish Catholic from Philly named Paul, and was already nursing a glass of bourbon. He seemed to enjoy his job as he positioned himself as provocateur and incredible multi-tasker. He told us that we had 10 minutes, and if he had to talk much during that time, then we weren't doing well. He was going to give us topics, and we were supposed to pick a position and support it with a decent argument.

The first topic was "Did the right guy win the election?" and I can only describe what ensued as chaos. Yelling, lots of yelling. Everyone trying to make their position heard, trying to stand out. It wasn't a subdued roundtable discussion, it was 20 people all clawing to get noticed above the rest. Some people clammed up, initimidated by it all. Some yelled into space, not talking to anyone in particular. More topics flowed, with each one ramping from silence to uproar in about 5 seconds.

I can't tell you what they were looking for, especially since I didn't have the stuff. I can speculate a bit. I think they were looking for quick responders, people who would articulate a strong position with good supporting points right off the bat. If you haven't finished making a solid point on each topic in 5 seconds, I think you're losing. This is why so many lawyers make the show. I think there are some intangibles in the mix - he probably looks at body language, style of speaking, ability to grab the attention of others. Some of it probably depends on what they're trying to cast. The current season is "Book smarts" vs. "Street smarts" - I would expect they were looking for people to fill certain roles on each of those teams from the time they had their first audition.

I responded a bit slowly on some topics, did make some points loudly, did back up some of my points well, did hold some smaller, more direct conversations with people around me. I did yell to nobody in particular a couple of times (many people were doing this), but I don't think that's productive unless you;re the first one. So can I give you interview tips to get on the show? No way - I don't even know what they want, but this is what you could expect in the audition process.

So why'd I do it? I don't idolize Donald Trump, but I do respect some of his accomplishments. Between the knowledge and connections that a winner (or even runner-up) on that show develops, especially working with Trump, it IS a golden opportunity. If nothing else, I knew it would be an interesting experience, an amusing story to share, and a good time to reflect on things I can do better.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

WHY TiVo is disruptive

TiVo (or more generically, Digital Video Recorder) technology is disruptive because it fundamentally shifts the relationships in televised mass media.

Consider this analysis of the business model for broadcast television: The shows are bait, used to attract viewers, who are in turn sold, as a product, to advertisers, the actual customer.

DVRs turn all of that on its head, since they're regularly used to skip commercials. So now the product the networks sell is taking the bait while avoiding being sold. Worse yet, while product companies can at least charge more when supply dries up, the remaining viewers are actually worth LESS, especially considering that the average DVR user is likely to be both young and have more disposable income.

Count this one of many times you hope you're not in the TV/broadcasting business. How do you handle a product that refuses to be sold?

Monday, January 31, 2005

Travelocity Corrects Course

I'd love to say my critique caused the fix, but I somehow doubt it. A new Travelocity radio ad follows the same "travel myths" theme and format, without the contradiction.

The new ad presents "The roaming gnome, exploder of travel myths". The first "myth" is that booking travel at the last minute costs a fortune, which the gnome replies is untrue, that we can still save a lot by using Travelocity. The second "myth" is that gnomes aren't adventurous eaters. We hear the gnome sounding uncomfortable eating something, followed by a forced "that was delicious".

Is it a great ad? Not by any stretch. But they fixed the problem their last ad in the series had, which was contradicting itself. Some better writing and they can keep building this decent ad campaign in an above-average way.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Recounting the "Bubble Bowl" - Super Bowl 2000

Super Bowl advertisers in 2000 had an excuse, the real question is what justifies the $2.4 million per half-minute of airtime in 2005? Forbes regales us with recollections of the miserable dot-com failures that ponied up the $2 million for their Super Bowl moment of fame in 2000. Though I've found a site with some of the 2000 ads posted, I can't find the really interesting list - a list of ALL advertisers that year. It's easy to pan the has-beens, those whose value tanked and even disappeared when the internet bubble burst. There's a certain mocking in the article - I think the financial rags are still trying to distance themselves from the central role they played in hyping the new economy that these companies would tap.

They should be mocking everyone, not just the easy targets. Who was more effective, the sock puppet of the now-defunct (2000), the forgettable ad with God putting Tabasco sauce on his pizza (2000), or the mundane ad with new Cadillac models (2004)? People weren't even talking about the latter two the next DAY, but I know that 5 years later, people can STILL laugh about the sock puppet, and KNOW the brand it was associated with (

For a Super Bowl ad to be worthwhile, you need to be CERTAIN that your ad will not only be talked about the next day, but that they'll mention your ad BY BRAND. Sure, E-Trade's ad with the monkey that boldly proclaimed they had just wasted $2 million dollars was funny, but who called it "that e-Trade ad"? They said, "Did you see that ad about wasting money with the monkey?" "Yeah, who was that for?" MEGA bonus points if your Super Bowl ad can be extended into more than a one-shot deal, an ad campaign.

There's a reason Budweiser's Super Bowl ads are consistently memorable (placing at least 1 if not 2 ads in the top 3 each year since 1999, according to They recognize that the $2 million is just part of the equation. A few years back, I got a card in the mail in December or January, asking me to do marketing research for "beer", reward: $75. Turns out it was market research for Budweiser. They had probably a hundred people in my session in Atlanta alone. They showed us dozens of ads, which we rated on multiple criteria (humor, brand image, etc). The DVD had over 100 ads on it. Then, they sat us in roundtable discussions of the ads, clearly recorded and observed. Not only did some of our favorites make the big game, some of our less favorite ads played in weeks before and after the game, and the least favorite ads never aired.

That Budweiser succeeds every year is no coincidence. Without a doubt, that $2+ million per 30 seconds is just a part of their Super Bowl ad budget. They spent $7500 to compensate the consumers that attended my session. And they had 4 Atlanta sessions. And I'm sure Atlanta wasn't the only city. And the market research firm probably charged a good bit themselves. And they paid to have over 100 ad concepts not only developed, but filmed. And that's why they win.

It seems that so many companies view that big-ticket Super Bowl ad as the main cost, and fill that time with an ad that costs just a bit more than their average prime time TV spot to develop. The problem is that Super Bowl ads are do-or-die. At that price, they could buy 20 times as many ads during prime time on a major network, but against weaker competition. If your ad isn't memorable, and "memory" includes your remembering your product, not just the ad, you just wasted $2 milion. It's obvious that few companies put in the diligence that Budweiser does to make sure their ads will succeed. The real question is, why? Most companies would spend a great deal of time weighing whether $2 million spent on IT, building expenses, or a rebate program. Why does marketing get a pass when it comes to thinking about ROI? In the past, it was because marketing was an immeasurable black art. In the new world of 180 channels, millions of web sites, Google AdSense, and so-on, marketing is becoming just as measurable as any other business expense. How long before the suits figure this out?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Why Lovemarks Offends Us

There's a lot of hate out there for Lovemarks, the "beyond branding" marketing schtick. For the unaware, the postulate is that you can create "loyalty beyond reason", not just brand affinity. Apple is a common example - the mindset of a Lovemark consumer is demonstrated in this iProduct parody ad. Hugh, Johnnie Moore, three authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, and The Head Lemur have all panned it well.

The Cluetrain guys dissect it a bit, but most of us have a complete and emotional anti-Lovemark response to the idea, the desire to rip it to shreds. While they pitch a "lovemark" as a brand or experience with high love, and high respect, the response to their lovemark brand, in clueful circles, it low love, low respect. According to their own love/respect axis, that makes them a "Product". Sounds about right.

Lovemarks isn't complete bunk. As an exercise in reflecting on the popularity of some brands - for Apple, Ikea, I would say Nintendo, and many more, it's an interesting thought exercise, and not an awful analysis. The vitriolic response comes because this ad agency has created and hyped the idea, and pretends they can recreate, even manufacture it. Most of us probably have some brand that we have an irrational attachment to, and see the same behavior in people we know. The thing is, these brand relationships weren't developed overnight, they weren't manufactured by an ad agency, and it's insulting to the brands we do love and respect to suggest that some "creative team" can cook up a Lovemark in a matter of weeks and months.

People loved Google because it was simple, but they respect it because while every other search engine turned into a massive banner ad for pop culture, Google kept its lovely expanse of white space. For most any "lovemark" brand I can think of, people came to love it because of a product that blew them away, and respected it because the company didn't sell its soul - it didn't hand everything over to focus groups and ad agencies. The companies continued to make products that flowed from the identity of that company, consistent with the product that people first grew to love.

Brand love happens quickly, but respect takes time, and consistency of message and product. The moment the customer feels sold out, or that their love is being taken advantage of, the game's over. The winners in the lovemarks game retain respect because the brand is transparent - the company and it's products are consistent and inseparable. That's the problem with trying to create lovemarks - the whole game is about exploiting someone's love of a brand, even manufacturing love and respect through an ad agency. There's too much information out there - if your company conflicts with your branding, people will find out, and you'll lose their respect.