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Wednesday, June 6 2012

76ers Connect With Fans

I'll begin this installment by openly admitting that although I consider myself an avid and knowledgeable fan of baseball and American football, when it comes to the one American sport that has accrued any degree of an international following, NBA basketball, you can count me out.  I'd be happy to challenge you to a game of HORSE or spend a couple hours watching college hoops on the tube, but try to have a conversation with me about the NBA and I will quickly bolt for the nearest exit.  Nonetheless, there is something talkable that I would like to focus on here regarding this past regular season and it just so happens to pertain to the one NBA team I have any degree of affiliation for - the Philadelphia 76ers.

I spent more than a decade in Philadelphia during much of the 1970s and a few years into the '80s, a period perhaps most noteworthy for Julius 'Dr. J' Erving and a trip to the NBA finals  during the 1976-77 season.  Unfortunately, the Sixers and Dr. J. were no match for the Portland Trail Blazers and Bill Walton, the latter of whom promptly won four straight to take the title after starting off 0-2.  Recent years have been lean indeed for the Sixers, until this season when a ragtag team of overachievers nearly shocked the basketball world before falling in the semi-finals to Boston after taking the series to deciding game seven.  But enough about the sport itself, what I want to write about here has to do with the marketing of the sport. 

The Sixers' traditional advertising campaign continued unabated during the season, and it remained as tired and hackneyed as most sports teams' marketing efforts.  Each ad largely followed the same script: swelling music, and a voiceover recounting some team facts, along with some footage from past successes.  Although a few of the ads ended with coach Doug Collins saying how proud he is to be a Sixer, all finished with the same tagline, "Passionate. Intense. Proud."  As losses began to mount during the second half of the truncated season, the ads began to look more and more ludicrous. 


So much for traditional marketing - however much money went into those communications no doubt accrued little dividend from jaded fans who quickly tuned them out.  But since purchasing the team in late 2011 for the relatively low sum of $280 million, the new Sixers' owners, a group of largely anonymous personalities led by Josh Harris, the billionaire private equity titan, created an amazing turnaround for the franchise by dipping into the connected marketing toolbox.  Through a combination of savvy non-traditional sports marketing techniques, Harris and the Sixers' chief executive, Adam Aron rejuvenated the fan base, which had been staying away from games in droves.  No, this did not involve luring Jack Nicholson, Snoop Dogg, and Will Ferrell away from the Lakers' front row seats; instead, the Sixers relied on some tactics that spoke more directly to consumers struggling to get by in hard times--cutting ticket prices as much as 50% on thousands of seats, jazzing up the in-game presentation, and speaking openly and often to fans.  According to Harris, when he and his partners acquired the team, "the Sixers were an undermanaged and undervalued asset that wasn't connecting with its fans."  Like many sports fans, people in Philadelphia prefer team owners to have some allegiance to their cities.  A wealthy New Yorker, Harris made sure to attend nearly every home game, shuttling down from NYC in his chauffeur-driven SUV, and then made sure to sit among the fans: "I like to be on the floor. I like seeing the games down there, and it's good to be down there with the fans."  Fans were invited to apply for free seats behind the basket, an opportunity that came with a caveat:  they had to dress up in Philadelphia-theme outfits.  Aron bought the basketball court on which Sixers' great Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in Hershey, PA, and then proceeded to give away pieces to fans during the game that took place on the 50th anniversary of Chamberlain's astonishing feat.

Not surprisingly, with this new fan-oriented approach, the Sixers are also active on social media.  Aron regularly converses and jokes around with fans on Twitter, posting dozens of times a day from his account, @sixersceoadam.  And the Sixers' Facebook fan page scraps the "Passionate. Intense. Proud." blah blah, replacing it with "Like. Comment. Share."  There are regular opportunities for fans to check out interesting videos and cash in via Facebook with special offers and contests.  At the time of this writing, visitors to the page could win access for two to the 2012 Sixers' draftee press conference and official NBA Sixers draft hats.  Fans, of course, are fickle.  Sportswriters are skeptical.  It helped that the Sixers' brass launched this marketing approach at a time when the team was surprising the pundits.  There's nothing better for marketing a sports team than winning.  It will be interesting to see what the Sixers' owners have in mind for their sophomore campaign.

Monday, January 30 2012

Don't Trust That Review

"More people are depending on reviews for what to buy and where to go, so the incentives for faking are getting bigger," says University of Illinois computer science professor Bing Liu. 

That consumers are increasingly turning to online reviews prior to making a purchase (offline or online) is now pretty much common knowledge.  I wrote extensively about this in Connecting With Consumers in my discussion of WOM and have posted a separate entry at this site on the power of consumer reviews.  That a majority of online reviews tend to be positive, with a ratio relative to negative reviews estimated anywhere from 3:1 (Robert East and his colleagues at the UK's Kingston U.) to 6:1 (Keller-Faye), already raises questions about whether many reviews may be bogus.

It is one thing for blatantly fake raves to be anonymously posted by unscrupulous e-commerce marketers, the equivalent of the used-car salesman freshly painting a worthless crate to move it off the lot, but now it appears that online tactics are becoming more subtle. Last week seller VIP Deals offered buyers of its $10 plus shipping leather case for the Kindle Fire (list priced at $59.99) a full rebate for writing "a product review for the Amazon community."  The offer was explained in a letter that arrived in the package along with the leather case, further explaining, "In return for writing the review, we will refund your order so you will have received the product for free."  Although it wasn't specified that the review had to be positive, the statement "We strive to earn 100% perfect 'FIVE-STAR' scores from you!" made it abundantly clear what kind of review was sought - the not-so-subtle equivalent of a wink, an arm twist, and a quick elbow jab to the ribs.  So it is no surprise that by last week, 310 out of 335 reviews of the leather case were five stars and most of the others were four stars, and the company itself had received 4,945 reviews on Amazon resulting in a nearly perfect 4.9 rating out of five.

Unfortunately, this tactic is nothing new.  Representatives of TripAdvisor have learned that an increasing number of hotels are bribing their guests with offers of free rooms, upgrades, and discounts if they post an "honest" but "positive" review of their property on TripAdvisor.  If you've searched for a hotel online, you probably have a good idea what these bogus missives sound like, especially if you yourself have been misled:  "Wow, what a find," or " a peaceful paradise"  or "perfect in every way!"  There is nothing wrong with owners encouraging customers to 'spread the word,' or 'write a favorable review'--a clear incentive to provide good service-- but when the offer of an incentive is thrown in, then things get dicey.

In the US, for example, the regulatory agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has rules stating that when there is a connection between a merchant and someone promoting its product that affects the endorsement's credibility, it must be fully disclosed.  Failure to comply can be costly.  Last March, a company that sells music instructional tapes, Legacy Learning Systems settled charges that it had hired affiliates to post favorable reviews on Web sites, paying $250,000 in fine.  TripAdvisor places a red flag against those properties it suspects of paid-for-reviews, but alas there is no foolproof way at present to nab all the culprits.  Considering that reviews can make or break a hotel or restaurant on such a powerful site, more precise methods are sorely needed.  The aforementioned Prof. Liu is among those working on the development of mathematical models to systematically I.D. the bogus endorsements.  

So while we wait for those computer gurus to find a sure solution for 'fakespotting,' here are three simple tips offered by Rebecca Greenfield (The Atlantic):

My fear is that as more companies continue to jump on the fake review bandwagon, viewing it as a cheap way of marketing, it won't be long before consumers stop trusting customer reviews entirely.  And once you shoot an arrow through the heart of WOM, what are we left with but traditional advertising.  Do we really want to go back? 

Friday, January 27 2012

Bad Connections

Some good advice from Sundeep Kapur over at ClickZ.

In the pursuit of trying to get things done, some "top" brands have made mistakes. Here are some things to avoid, with no exceptions - things that I hope are rarely repeated.

  1. Run specials all the time. In a struggle to keep the consumer engaged, brands tend to keep offering consumers special deals. This all-out effort to discount and lure tends to have a negative impact by devaluing the brand and devaluing the relationship.
  2. Wait for people to come. Brands set up shop on social media sites and simply wait for the consumer to come and find them. They do little to engage via dialogue or by trying to market along other channels. They have simply set up shop and expect that it is good enough to drive consumers in.
  3. Run contests and games all the time. Gamification is the new buzzword for engagement with many brands investing significantly in games to engage their consumers. Additionally, brands tend to run multiple contests, which results in severely diluting their engagement to conversion metrics.
  4. Block negative feedback. Many top brands tend to either block or ignore negative feedback. If you put up a comment on their site they either take it down or have a defined strategy to push the bad comments as far down as possible. This strategy diminishes the value of the positive comments.
  5. Launch press releases on social media. Do you pay attention to more than 300 characters or watch long video clips? Brands tend to forget the conversational nature of engagement on social media sites - short, interesting stories are a much better way to engage.
  6. Wait 24 hours to respond. Some brands take a long time to respond because they only check "social feedback" twice a week. Other brands take a long time to respond because they have to get approval before they can respond. The problem is that if you take too long, the consumer will probably call your brand for an answer or move over to someone else.
  7. Not connecting your channels. Always a classic with the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Just two weeks ago, a major travel company sent two types of incentives - a gas discount card by email that shaved 10 cents off each gallon and a gas discount offer via social media that offered a five cent discount. It took a direct mail piece to fix the issue.
  8. Snoop on and shock your customers. While it's OK for a brand to leverage "widgets" to track consumer behavior on social media sites, it's scary when the brand surprises these consumers with offers. A click on a social link led to a phone call by a cruise representative who unabashedly told me that he observed my behavior online.
  9. Just roll along. Some brands feel that it's OK to reach a certain critical mass in social media after which their sites can just "roll along." The snowball can roll the wrong way and hurt brands.
  10. Focus on "likes." A blind focus on driving up "likes" has led to the "like" button being devalued and resulted in significantly lower ROI.
  11. "Wait" to get started. Believe it or not there are still brands, especially in the financial services area, that are waiting for the social media "fad" to end.
Feel free to add your own, just click 'comment.'

Thursday, January 12 2012

50 Brands That Connect With Consumers

What is the secret to creating more meaningful relationships with consumers and experiencing significantly higher growth as a result?  According to a recent Stengel Study of Business Growth, the answer is no more complicated than this: develop a strong brand promise.

Using Milward Brown's Optimor technique (explained in the box at the end of this discussion), the Stengel analysis was performed over a ten-year period spanning 31 countries and 28 categories. The top 50 brands--that is, those that outpaced their competition in brand value over the past decade and formed “unusually strong connections with consumers” are listed alphabetically in the following chart.  The so-called the ‘Stengel 50’ grew three times faster in financial terms during the period studied than their competitors and the overall universe of brands.

The Stengel 50 reveals quite a disparity in brand categories, ranging from luxury brands like Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Moët et Chandon, Hennessy and Mercedes-Benz to e-commerce brands like and Zappos to consumer goods brands like Coca-Cola, Sensodyne, and Red Bull.  Among these brands we see some of the usual suspects, ones that have been identified in other analyses, particularly engagementdb's social media engagement study of the top global brands (which compared Business Week's top 100 global brands according to number of channels and depth of engagement), as well as assessments of company's performance on Facebook and Twitter.  Albeit with differences.  For example, the top three brands that emerged from the engagementdb analysis were Starbucks, Dell, and eBay.  The top three Stengel brands were Apple, Google and Pampers, growing as much as 10 times faster than average company growth between 2001 to 2011.  Both studies found that connecting with consumers was associated with financial growth.

Looking a little more closely at the Stengel study, however, the basic question is what exactly does it mean to 'develop a strong brand promise' or identity?  Insight into this question is provided by the study's director, Jim Stengel, former CMO of P&G.  According to Stengel the high ranking brands were built around a central ideal that clarified their core purpose, such as IBM's goal to 'create a smarter planet' and Jack Daniel's 'maverick independence.'  In marketing jargon we call these central ideals  'brand essence' - the essential and intrinsic nature of the brand; its spirit and soul; a single thought that captures that soul.

The man behind the research – high profile US marketer and former CMO of Procter & Gamble, Jim Stengel – suggested all of the high ranking brands were built around a central ‘ideal’ that fostered a tight focus on their core purpose.  As described in his book Grow. How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies, Stengel elaborates on brand ideals:

 “A brand ideal is not social responsibility or altruism but a programme for profit and growth based on improving people’s lives.”

“Maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible. They’re inseparable.”

As an example, Stengel points to Pampers, a brand that lost sight of its core ideal by focusing too narrowly on the dryness of diapers.  Market share continued to drop until Pampers successfully redefined its brand ideal as ‘helping mothers care for their babies’ and toddlers’ healthy, happy development’. Anybody can talk about dry diapers, but helping mothers care for their newborns is a message that helps distinguish a winning brand from the also-rans.  The best-performing businesses, according to Stengel, are driven by ideals that touch on one of five human values: eliciting joy, enabling connection, inspiring exploration, evoking pride or having an impact on society.


The Stengel study adds another notch to Starbucks' growing collection of successes in outperforming just about everybody else when it comes to connecting with consumers.  That I've admired Starbucks' strategy and tactics in the past is certainly evidenced by my extensive discussion of the company in my book, Connecting With Consumers, and in the many lectures I've given on the topic.  Nonetheless, based on some recent experiences associated with my forthcoming book, Psychological Foundations of Marketing (Routledge, June 2012), I'm beginning to reassess my image of Starbucks.  I'm now beginning to think their 'connecting' is nothing more than a lot of smoke and mirrors.  More on this in a subsequent installment.  Stay tuned.

Friday, December 23 2011

Be 'Flawsome'

'Flawsome.' It may not be a word that you'll find in the dictionary, but an increasing number of companies are using the strategy, whether they know it or not. In the spirit of the new year, I reproduce verbatim, this short piece on flawsomeness from [Forbes||en].

What Should Top Brands' New Year Resolutions? Be 'Flawsome'

Image credit:

If you’re in charge of brands put one non-negotiable New Year’s resolution your list: Think ‘flawsome.’

The trend, coined by global trend monitoring firm TrendWatching, describes companies embraced by customers for their authenticity, humanity and willingness to admit mistakes. They’ve hit on an urgent issue for brand leaders – despite the kitsch of the call.

Marketing is still largely projection-driven business. As part of the process flaws are kept as far out of sight as possible. Problem is, sooner or later some of those blemishes will be exposed. Despite the best intentions in presentation, no brand, company or representative is perfect. How imperfect moments are handled can make the difference between a small situation or reputation capital vaporized in short order.

Consider the current plight of Lowe’s. For those of who missed the uproar, here’s the summary: the company complied with the Florida Family Association’s request to pull its ads from the TLC reality show, “All-American Muslim,” and as part posted a message to Facebook to explain why. The page went un-managed in the days following. Commentary on the note blew up as did media coverage pointing back to the page. Within a few days more than 28,000 comments were left in reply to the note, many openly racist, profane and offensive. The media and cultural commentators continued to pile on. Even Jon Stewart weighed in. Lowe’s eventually deleted the note leaving a bruising trail of sentiment is its wake.

Whether you agree with the decision or handling of the issue, one thing is clear: This is a lightning rod event with sustained shelf-life for Lowe’s.

This can happen to anyone, and it’s yet another illustration of the customer-empowered environment all companies now operate in. When things go sideways, quick recognition and fast response is important. A little humanity, humility and even creativity won’t hurt either.

Take the example of Domino’s. In 2009 former employees posted a YouTube video showing disgusting acts on pizzas being prepped. That video went viral, generated over a million views and did serious damage to Domino’s brand.

What follows is modern-day textbook material for handling a social media crisis. The secret ingredients in the company’s response were straightforward recognition and response to the issue, and, more fundamentally, an overhaul of its marketing to focus on product flaws and willingness to fix them.

Domino’s tracked down its critics and sold them on completely new pizza recipes—a process documented on a microsite created for the effort. The company Twitter account solicits contact information from disgruntled customers to solve problems in real-time. CEO Patrick Doyle even recorded an apology ad (backed up with social engagement) over the state of delivered pizzas.

Domino’s embraced a new attitude, opting to engage in dialogue about problems, address them and document the process —from encouraging customers to post photos of their delivery orders online to live-streaming negative and positive customer comments on Times Square billboards.

As both examples show, for better or worse, reputation is influenced by how well a brand is prepared to face its flaws. Risk management and protection may not be as sexy as exci

Sunday, September 25 2011

Connecting With Consumer Campaigns: Tremor

  Remember P&G's Tremor teens program?  I discussed it rather extensively in Connecting With Consumers.  As the forerunner to P&G's ongoing Vocalpoint campaign with US mothers, Tremor involved the recruiting of nearly 300,000 US teen "connectors" (respondents to an online questionnaire who had an average of 170 names in their address books).  Tremor provided these influentials with free samples, CDs, movie passes, and so on, in exchange for feedback and the opportunity to have them lend an air of cool to the products and recommend them to their friends.

So why am I talking about Tremor teens in the past tense?  As I've recently learned from Nina, a member of the Vocalpoint team, they grew up.  I contacted the Vocalpoint team directly when my online search to see what was happening with the teen program came up empty.  Nina explained via email: 

School, sports, clubs and other activities are keeping teens busier than ever before.  We don't want to compete with these priorities, so Tremor stopped recruiting teen panel members a while ago and now our teens have become young adults with other interests. 

I don't know Nina personally, so there is no reason I shouldn't take these comments at face value, but I can't help feeling that there is a hidden message here, as in 'parents and school officials were complaining that Tremor's free gifts and not so subtle efforts to influence peers had become the central preoccupation of kids' lives, serving as too much of a distraction from school, establishment extracurricular activities, and family responsibilities.'  I mean, if the program was such a success--and all indications are that it was--and your participants have aged from teenagers to young adults, wouldn't you simply keep recruiting new teen participants?  According to a 2010 Common Sense analysis few parents are aware of the extent of their children's daily time spent on social networks, as described in The New York Times article below.  Perhaps Tremor was just too obtrusive to parents and school marms who viewed the program as a manipulative tool to lure teens to serve as company spokespersons.

Vocalpoint, however, is alive and well.  After all, while moms can complain about their kids being exploited as social marketing tools, when it comes to moms receiving free products and coupons themselves, who is going to complain - Dad?  As I discussed in my book, Vocalpoint is a marketing group powered by P&G that recruits influential mothers to assist companies in developing and testing new product ideas and marketing programs that women care about and want to talk about.  Or, as Nina explained,

Vocalpoint works with companies in industries that include consumer products, entertainment, fashion, music, food, and beauty.  We get our members directly involved in the creation and launch of these companies' ideas and programs.  We collect feedback and generate valuable knowledge and insight for our clients through surveys, product sampling and previews of new products and marketing ideas, while building word of mouth among women around the US.

Since in its 2006 inception, Vocalpoint has recruited several hundred thousand US moms into the program, which today represents an enormously effective mechanism for P&G to obtain product-related feedback from women (aged 28 to 45 with children aged 19 or under) and to get them talking.  From the Vocalpoint website, here are the nuts and bolts:

Monday, April 18 2011

Pretzel Crisps' Social Sampling and Twitter

On the heels of my recent Pretzel Crisps' and Facebook campaign excerpt, I heard from Pretzel Crisps' PR Director Jessica Harris - another example of how the makers of an everyday snack product really understand how to resonate with consumers through social media - they listen and they connect.  Ms. Harris provided a summary of Pretzel Crisps' so-called "Social Sampling" program, along with a window into how the firm uses Twitter to generate brand awareness and consumer conversations.  I've presented the campaign summary verbatim below.

Pretzel Crisps’® “Social Sampling” Program Rethinks How to Connect with New Consumers




Pretzel Crisps® wanted to introduce the brand to new consumers in a targeted and high-impact way.  “We needed a groundbreaking, cost-effective way to raise brand awareness and attract new users,” said Jason Harty, Director of Field & Interactive Marketing for Pretzel Crisps and recently referenced in the newly released, Listen First! Turning Social Media Conversations into Business Advantages, by Stephen D. Rappaport.  “By listening to the cloud of conversation and engaging with consumers in relevant dialogue, we could build increased interest in the brand and move Pretzel Crisps from an overlooked brand to a must-have brand in the competitive snack food category.”




As a humble pretzel cracker, it’s a pretty lofty goal to become a catalyst for social conversation, but that’s how they started.  By listening to and engaging in relevant conversations online, Pretzel Crisps delivered just-in-time product sampling to unexpecting new consumers.  The brand refers to their innovative marketing tactic as “Social Sampling.”




The Social Sampling tactic has innovated Pretzel Crisps’ field marketing approach and helped to bring new users into the franchise.  Since the launch of Social Sampling, the brand has used Twitter to: bring the idea of being a catalyst for social conversation to life and manufacture significant media impressions.  By measuring the number of impressions generated from each social sampling interaction and the resulting reach through each user’s following, Pretzel Crisps has been able to garner 2,877,000 earned media impressions since July 2010. 


Social Sampling delivered earned media via tweets, blog posts, reviews and comments.  While the brand has not been able to measure the specific sales lift resulting from their Social Sampling program, the brand is confident that this hyper-targeted, high-impact sampling is creating new consumers each day.

Sunday, April 17 2011

Below the Belt Marketing

This guerrilla campaign for New Zealand's Superette represents advertising that literally leaves an impression.  This is not exactly what I have in mind when I advocate how companies should connect with consumers.  And you wonder why people hold negative attitudes towards marketers and marketing. 

A logical extension of assvertising, this campaign was employed in inner city and fashion district bus stops, mall seats and park benches, and what with warm weather months approaching in other parts of the world, I imagine more and more consumers will be looking down for the next big deal.  (Source: geekologie

Thursday, April 14 2011

Pretzel Crisps - How to Double Facebook Fans in 36 Hours

'If you build it, he will come.'  - Ray Kinsella, Shoeless Joe Jackson

Kinsella's prophesy may or may not be an apt one for baseball, but it definitely doesn't cut it for social media.  As Carlos Diaz (Blue Kiwi) astutely noted in his social media maturity model, setting up corporate Twitter accounts, a Facebook fan page, and YouTube channel, in maturity terms, means you're an adolescent, stuck in the 'Connection' stage.   Connection sounds impressive, but it's not engagement.  And there are a ton of companies out there making a lot of noise: 'Look at us!  We're so active in social media!'  According to Diaz, that's just a lot of blablablah.

So it is with Facebook.  In her early survey of killer Facebook fan pages, PR and social media expert Callan Green noted:

Sure, anyone can build a fan page in under 10 minutes, and some big brands may even attract fans without any real effort. But even if you have 3 million fans, if the extent of their involvement with your brand is that at one point they “became a fan,” is that really benefiting you?

The fan pages that are doing it right are the ones that are actively engaging with their fans. These pages have creative content, two-way communication, active discussion boards, videos and images, and a fun and casual tone to match the medium.

These comments must have been taken to heart by the folks behind the recent Pretzel Crisps campaign to drive fan growth on their Facebook page.  With the assistance of Buddy Media, the campaign centered on product trial through the use of coupons.  According to Pretzel Crisps' Jason Harty, "One of the our first priorities was to give value to our fans, and use this added value to bring in new fans."  By offering coupons to encourage product trial, the campaign offered fans an enriched experience and a reward for becoming part of the Pretzel Crisps fan community.

Here is Steve Hall's account of what happened next:

Pretzel Crisps launched a $1 off coupon on Facebook during the last week of February, 2011, and saw fans grow from 5,000 to 12,000 as a result.  Then, on March 15th, 2010, Pretzel Crisps switch the $1 off coupon to a "buy one, get one free" coupon. And as an experiment, Pretzel Crisps didn't tell anyone about the promotion. They wanted to see if it would spread with literally no push behind it - no status update, no advertising, no PR.  Within 36 hours, Pretzel Crisps had doubled their fan-base on Facebook. They now have more than 45,000 fans on Facebook and have seen these fans remain engaged on their Facebook page.

In essence, a basic coupon distribution promotion boosted sales and built up a fan base in the process, which can in turn be leveraged for future promotions.  More and more brands like Pretzel Crisps seem to be getting the idea - setting up a Facebook fan page won't automatically lead to engagement if the brand behind the page doesn't do anything with it.  The Cone social media agency reported that last January that their research revealed that 77% of social media users want brands to offer them incentives online.  Check out this screen shot from Victoria Secret's Pink Facebook page, with the blue circles highlighting the added value Pink offers its fans:

While I'm at it, I might as well add some value to this page, by showing something else Pretzel Crisps offers its fans - killer recipes:

I'll have much more to say about effective Facebook marketing in coming weeks, maybe even some more recipes, so stay tuned.  Starbucks gets it.

Sunday, October 3 2010

Virgin Radio's Ageist Campaign Disconnect

For every company that is effectively responding to the dramatic changes taking place in the contemporary marketplace--changes that I describe in depth in the first half of Connecting With Consumers--there are probably 50 other companies that just don't get it. Add Virgin Radio to that latter group. How many ways can you say that 'clever' doesn't necessarily equate with 'smart'?  Well, Virgin Radio's latest campaign ('Ne Viellissez Pas Trop Vite' or 'Don't Grow Old Too Fast', with the signature, 'Virgin Radio Staying Cool'), created by the French agency Hémisphère Droit, is a good example of how an apparently clever effort to communicate with one's target segment can effectively disconnect with the rest of the world.

Rationalize this campaign any way you choose--e.g., one should stay young at heart even though the wrinkles are beginning to appear on the outside--this is pure and simple, a tasteless campaign.  Accuse me of being a decrepit and cantankerous old fogy--I've been called worse--but when I saw the image below displayed prominently on the glass of a bus

stop shelter the other day, my first thought was, how clever, Virgin wants us to know how distasteful it is to age (as if the aging process can be stopped) and how listening to Virgin Radio (which plays, by the way, music by persons much older than those suggested in their poster campaign - see below) can help you stay young!  What we see in the posters, of course, are not aged music enthusiasts, but young, presumably attractive models photoshopped to appear old looking.  Wouldn't this campaign have made more sense if Virgin had simply depicted some actual seniors who happen to be listener fans of Virign Radio (or musicians, like the wrinkly Higelin, Lou, Patty, and Jane), with a tagline along the lines of, 'aging isn't so bad after all--I get to keep my rock 'n roll'? 


Okay, you can argue that seniors are not exactly Virgin Radio's core audience, but such an alternative message would suggest an open-minded inclusiveness.  The famous advertising practitioner David Ogilvy once warned to never make fun of consumers in your campaign, or to suggest that you are so much smarter, clever, and savvy than the persons you hope to attract.  Want to see what I mean?  Check out these images from Richter 7's (US) commercials for the Sonic Scrubber, a high-powered household cleaning tool, which suggest that consumers are so stupid they will mistake the tool for a toothbrush.

Better is Evian's 'Baby Inside' campaign (BETC Euro RSCG Paris), featuring artwork by fashion photographer Nathaniel Goldberg, a logical extension of the Evian baby videos.  At last March's Marketing 2.0 conference at ESCP Europe, Michael Aidan, Evian Global Brand Director at Danone Waters, explained that the Evian campaign (the viral videos, the t-shirts, and the forthcoming online 'how young are you' pop quiz) have proved enormously successful for the company, having boosted all brand attributes (health, purity, etc.), visibility, and brand preference.  The 'drinking Evian makes you feel young' theme was reinforced by each communication.

I must admit, I think it'd be a bit weird to be walking around wearing one of those baby t-shirts, but Evian's campaign effectively conveys its message without alienating aging consumers--and there are quite a few of us worldwide and our segment is growing every day--who actually still do feel young inside. Another good example is Snicker's 'It's what you would want' campaign from a couple years back, which I won't get into here because I think I've made my point.  The point is pretty simple: if you want to connect with consumers, you have to respect them first.

Before checking out, I should add that last week, Clichy's PS mayor Gilles Catoire officially banned Virgin's
posters from his town.  In Catoire's view, the campaign suggests that aging is a disease, a message that he believes does not fit well with the 'inter-generational equity' of his constituency. Quoted in Le Parisian, HD's Virgin Radio campaign creator Franck Tapiro contended, 'The aim of this campaign is definitely not to put young and old in opposition. Quite the contrary. It just says that to stay young at heart, just listen to music" (translated from the French). I can't say I abide Catoire's act of censorship, but I can see the folks at Hémisphère Droit rejoicing his decision, revelling in the publicity that further demonstrates what artistic rebels they must think they are. 

Thursday, September 16 2010

Generating WOM With Falling Cars

Marketers are people and people love their cars.  So it's no surprise that some of the most ingenious buzzworthy marketing campaigns are those involving the modern invention that arguably is the root of all evil.  Trust me, on that one - I've driven in Boston, Paris, Heraklion, Istanbul, and the like,  and am still shaking, which is why the only thing I drive these days is a number 3 iron on the links.  Actually, I don't really play golf, but I thought that was a pretty funny comment.  Anyway, I must admit that in my past, I only drove a car horizontally, not vertically, and at least in the general vicinity of the speed limit, which isn't very buzzworthy at all.  And that is why cars that are hanging, falling, bouncing, and whatever other possibility I missed, capture attention.  And, as I mentioned about 10,000 times in Connecting With Consumers, if you don't get people's attention, you don't get buzz.

I couldn't help thinking about some buzzworthy car-related car campaigns of the recent past when I read the 2008 WOM case study at the WOMMA website earlier today.  The award-winning campaign that provides the focus of the case study was a 10-city promotion in Belgium created by Proximity BBDO for Dodge to promote the new Dodge Viper and a couple other models.  As described in the case study, the challenge for Dodge in the highly competitive Belgian car market was to get people familiar with the cars by encouraging them to take a test drive.  Yet, to get people into the Dodge showrooms for a test drive and, hopefully, a purchase would have required a lot of very expensive promotional shouting.  So instead of trying to bring consumers to the cars, BBDO cooked up a scheme to take the cars to the consumers, without spending for a single print ad, TV or radio commercial, or direct mailing.  As is evident from the adjoining photo, the marketing action involved inviting people to experience a 50-ft meter bungee jump in a Dodge Viper.  And BBDO made it social by equipping the cars with cameras, which recorded the reactions of the test driver. The videos were uploaded and posted at the campaign's website and then made shareable.

Here are the campaign's results, taken straight from the WOMMA website:

1. The onboard camera videos generated over 50,000 views on YouTube and GarageTV.

2. Site traffic boomed, with over 35,000 unique visitors

3. 10% of site visitors opted in, 5% requested more information and 1% visited a showroom.

In fact, by the time they took the Dodge challenge in Belgium, BBDO were already old hands at the hanging car motif.  Here's one from Italy that got a lot of attention online a few years ago.


You don't necessarily need a dangling car to generate buzz with this sort of outdoor campaign.  Back in November 2006, Target challenged magician David Blaine to escape from a gyroscope hanging five stories above New York's Times Square.  Blaine was to accomplish his great escape by Friday at 5AM to make it in time to Target's 2-Day Thanksgiving Sale.  Well, during the period around Thanksgiving, Times Square is swarming with tourists, most of whom are armed with digital cameras and videocams.  Sure enough, it wasn't long before YouTube was inundated with uploaded videos of the Target-sponsored event, and before long, YouTube counted more than 18,000 views.


And another example for good measure:

Let's face it, these campaigns are pretty talkable - they are hard to miss, unexpected, and creative.  Relatively speaking - that is, relative to a large-scale traditional mass media campaign, they are cheap.  The hanging cars are immediate and encourage sharing - with passersby (in car or on foot) likely to have a portable device on hand, chances are they'll be communicating about the campaign on their portable phones or else using its camera to capture an image that they'll upload at a social media website.  That's how you spread buzz.  

Sunday, July 18 2010

P&G Connects With Old Spice Campaign

Old Spice is a brand that has been around since forever. Well, maybe not forever, but 72 years is still a long time in the cutthroat consumer marketplace. It was my father's aftershave. And my grandfather's. I knew even when I was a young boy that when I grew up to be as old as they were - and at the time, they seemed really old, in part, because of that Old Spice smell - I wasn't going to follow suit because I hated the smell. When my grandfather lit up a fat stogie back in the day, I think I was the only one in the room who was happy about it. Stogie stink vs. Old Spice musk, no contest for a 10-year-old. The name didn't help. I figured, they don't call it Old Spice for nothing - it's for old people, duh. So I really did a double-take when I recently learned how P&G's Old Spice is undergoing a transformation and rapidly becoming a hip brand for men, thanks in no small part to P&G's new 'Smell like a man, man' advertising campaign for Old Spice shower gel, starring the actor Isaiah Mustafa.

The initial 30-second ad, which dates back to last February, began with the dashing actor standing in a bathroom donning merely a towel and challenging female viewers to compare the looks of their man to him, their man to him, the Old Spice Man. No contest, he confidently points out, but adds, 'Sadly he isn't me, but if he stopped using ladies' scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he's me.' True, when I watched this ad I wanted to strangle Mr. Old Spice. But P&G did their research - they weren't talking to me, they were talking to the women who their research suggested purchase as much as 70% of the shower gel for the men in their households. At the same time, marketers are aware that using traditionally female body care products, such as body wash, strikes many men as unmanly. I found this out about 10 years ago from a study I published with one of my colleagues, Elisabeth Tissier-Desbordes, based on interviews we conducted with French and American men. Part of the problem is perceptual - men have a hard time conceiving of body wash as something that gets them as clean as bar soap. According to P&G's recent research, the situation hasn't changed as much as you might think. In essence, the challenge for P&G, as nailed by Andrew Adam Newman in a recent New York Times article, was this: 'How could they market body wash to female purchasers and yet still cast the product as decidedly masculine to lure men away from bar soap?' The answer is found in the 'Smell like a man, man' campaign. Following on the heels of the initial spot, which became an Internet sensation with more than 13 million hits on YouTube, is a follow-up spot with the Old Spice Man, which is also proving to be a YouTube favorite, clocking in at more than 8.2 million views since June 29.

In and of itself, the 'Smell like a man, man' campaign is terrific - it's funny, effectively communicates its message, and likely appeals to both women and men.  No doubt, we haven't seen the last of the Isaiah Mustafa ads, and it will be fun to see what Wieden & Kennedy - the creators of the videos - will come up with next.  But it shouldn't surprise us that P&G wasn't willing to rest on its laurels and sit back in the hopes that their videos would go viral, spread, whatever you want to call it.  Readers of my book Connecting With Consumers, are aware of some of the innovative social media campaigns already carried out for P&G brands - Being Girl being one of the more successful.  And so, this is where P&G has turned an enormously popular video ad campaign into pure genius, via an approach that truly connects with consumers.  Early last week, P&G brought Mr. Old Spice to field questions from consumers through Facebook and Twitter messages.  You Tube videos were created with Mr. Mustafa appearing in a bathroom donned in his now iconic towel, responding with answers provided by four script writers.  Close to 200 minute-long videos were uploaded to YouTube, largely featuring queries provided by major influencers and celebrities like Alyssa Milano, Demi Moore, and George Stephanopoulos. Check out this example.  And like many successful viral campaigns, the parody videos have already  begun to appear, and there is a 'making of' video also gaining widespread circulation.

Already considered by some to be one of the best campaigns of 2010, the secret to the Old Spice campaign was summed up succinctly by WOMMA's Pat McCarthy:  Traditional media translates well into new media when you create spot-on content that engages influential people.

UPDATE:  Latest Nielsen data provide some happy news for P&G and Mr. Old Spice - sales of the entire Old Spice Body Wash range rose by 55% over the last three months, and by 10% in the last month alone.  Bad news, though, is reflected in this observation: 'I still stand behind not wanting my boyfriend to smell like my dad.'