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

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.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

First Offender: Travelocity

Travelocity is the first offender under the microscope. They've a bit of a risk on the "roaming gnome" campaign - it's certainly an oddity in the downright antiquated travel industry. I've got a beef with a current ad of theirs, and with their strategy.

The current ad is a radio spot. The announcer states that many people believe that you pay more when booking hotel and travel together. The gnome responds that they're wrong, that Travelocity saves money when you book them together in most cases. This is the message they WANT you to get.

Then, the announcer says that many people believe that jellyfish are harmful. The gnome says that's also false, that they're perfectly cuddly. And proceeds to yell 'Ouch!' in pain, presumably from cuddling a jellyfish.

So they're trying to deconstruct a common belief in the travel industry, and the moment they have you thinking about that, they proceed to prove the gnome a liar by challenging a commonly known truth about jellyfish. So can I save money booking travel and hotel together, or not? I'm sure they were thinking they'd add whimsical gnome humor to the ad, but it's straight up dumb to have your spokesperson prove themselves unreliable 10 seconds after they act like an authoritative voice selling the feature you're trying to market. You just undermined your message - good job.

Now on to the campaign. I don't have a problem with the idea as a whole. Starting with the guerrilla, 'Where's my gnome?' campaign, they've built a pretty decent association with Travelocity and this gnome in just over a year. When I see or hear the gnome, I ignore him less than other ads. There's something peculiarly amusing about garden gnomes - I can't explain it, and I'm not along. In the end, I hear the word Travelocity as I listen to the gnome, and they pop into my mind when I'm on the web and think about booking travel. So far, so good.

But they're afraid of the gnome. They started bold, and then chickened out. At launch, flyers were handed out in NYC with a phone number and web site asking to help someone find their gnome. But like an old company, their guerilla web site fed data from a submitted form into a consumer database. Guess they've never heard of permission marketing. They are an old company. Travelocity pretends to be new, but their parent company, Sabre Holdings, is a Fortune 500, and has been in the game since the 60's. The gnome is their 'spokesperson', but gets buried in the bottom left corner of their web site, pimping their sale fares.

They know that if they're really effective, some people will become emotionally attached to the gnome. I know, because he has his own web store, where you can buy gnomes and gnome merchandise, but the link is ",,TRAVELOCITY%7C1751
%7Cmkt_main,00.html", and can only be reached by clicking the microscopic "About Travelocity" link at the bottom of their home page, and THEN clicking on the gnome. Hardly a starring role. Meanwhile, they still own their original site,, but there's no content there. They own, but it redirects to Why not have point to the gnome store? Why not post all the ads you've paid big money to develop on that site? Why not pay a few bucks to continue posting photos of the places the gnome has traveled? If people WANT to connect to your ad campaign, let them. But like I said, the gnome scares them. They've put too much money into the campaign to ditch it yet, and they have McKinney + Silver on retainer. So instead they sit on the fence, afraid to even leverage assets they already own to promote themselves.

Miserable Marketing

Somewhere between the ad campaigns designed to "build a brand" (think of McDonald's annual slogan-of-the-year), the ad blitzes designed to brainwash you into wanting a product (think of the way any TV network launches a new show), and the veiled conflict of interest marketing (MTV promoting the music of artists who happen to have shows on MTV), there are a few nuggets of truly interesting marketing (think Chick-fil-A's cow campaign, when it first launched).

You may say, "Rob, you're a software developer, what do you know about marketing?" I know that I'm part of a growing group of people in a key U.S. "target demographic" that has been largely desensitized and even grown contemptuous of of the way Madison Avenue thinks they can convince me to purchase a product. If they want to get into my wallet, they'll need to either listen to me or figure out how to fool me - that makes me expert enough to have a voice. Advertising used to be effective because there were only so many billboards, newspaper/magazine pages, and TV channels to advertise on. If you were willing to pay to make an ad, and present it in the media, you'd get noticed. You were the only name customers would recognize at the store, and the ads paid off. The media outlets multiplied, and it became impossible to crowd out the competition as before, so they tried to crank up the volume instead, thinking that the same bland messages that won them business before, repeated more often, would keep their business up. Instead they just alienated their audience. TiVo, ad blockers, pop-up blockers, spam filters, and do-not-call lists aren't a coincidence. We're sick of it. Get the message.

I can't promise to be as in-your-face as Hugh Macleod or as ingenious as Seth Godin, but those guys are visionaries of a marketing future that has just begun to arrive. I don't know enough to create good marketing, especially for a living. But I know bad marketing when I see it. You'll see it too.