Crazy Marketing

As we near the 4th…here’s a little marketing bit to think about.

Fireworks businesses and packaging seem to have one of two branding angles….
1) Patriotic – Red/White/Blue – Etc
2) Insanity – Craziness – Etc

I can see the first, but why the second?

Why would I want to buy packaged gunpowder and explosives from someone who is “crazy”…or from an establishment that claims it’s owned and operated by psychotic clowns?

I’m sure the first roadside fireworks stand that tried the crazy/psychotic look was very successful. Why? It was different. It made them stand out from the Boy Scout Troop selling the same thing in the ODGreen tent a mile down the road. It didn’t have anything to do with the product, but it made people look up.

And every year, the local fireworks stand just accepts that he has to be “crazy” because that’s the way fireworks stands are marketed. But as with all unique marketing angles, the 1st one works and the copycats beat it to death until it’s more of the same old same old — like this recent familiar example.

“Yeah..well that’s just some guy who only works in June in a tent…what does he know about marketing. We’re a big company. We don’t do that.”

Really? What is your business doing with marketing that once seemed unique…but is now just boring…and you’re doing it because “that’s what works for everyone else”?

Just because your marketing plan goes beyond just plain commercials and print ads, it doesn’t mean you’re “out there” on the cutting edge. It seems simple and trite…but lots of businesses don’t get the simple idea that…To be unique, you must be…unique.

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The Hotel Restaurant

As I travel around the country speaking at conferences and meetings that take place in various nameless hotel/conference centers, one thing is always the same. It’s the hotel restaurant.

I’m sure you’ve eaten at this one restaurant that’s scattered around the country. Sure, it has different names…depending where you are….
In Denver, it’s called “Rocky Mountain Grille”.
In Chicago, it’s named “Windy City Grille”.
In Boston, it’s the “Patriot Grille”
Etc.
Etc.

The idea is the same in each spot. The chain hotel’s corporate “gourmet chef” has developed a menu that sounds fancy and high-priced. The entire experience and pricing is built around the idea of the corporate expense account. The trouble is that it’s iceberg lettuce…not mixed greens. The waitstaff’s last job where they learned the meaning of “service” was a fast-food place…not a white-linen steakhouse. Most of the food came off the same food service truck that just visited the local schools and prison.

And yet people flock to it.

I currently sit writing this in the lobby of one of those Holiday-Marriott-Sheraton conference hotels (at least they’ve figured out the need for wi-fi). People are scurrying into the hotel restaurant. You can see on their faces that they think they’re going to a fine restaurant and will truly get a great experience of the local taste.

I dare say there’s better BBQ in Memphis than at the “Blues Grille”.
There’s better crabs in Baltimore that at the “Chesapeake Grill”
I bet the key lime pie is better at Kermit’s than at “Hemingway’s Grille”
Etc.
Etc.

So what’s the attraction? Simple. It’s the marketing. Marketing to a captive audience that’s too busy, too ignorant, or may be too scared to get out and walk 2 blocks to get the real thing. After a 9-4 day of conferencing and continuously seeing the menu in the elevator and seeing the menu laying on your pillow, you convince yourself that the Chicken ala St. Louie is the best thing next to the Arch.

The next time you think that marketing isn’t worth it, then remember this. If someone can convince intelligent world-traveled businesspeople that the “Golden Gate Grille” is the best option in one of the world’s best food cities, you can market ANYTHING.

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Silence is Golden

It’s summertime and the bloggin’ is easy.

My posts have been light over the past few weeks as the humidity reached 188% and frankly, I have nothing to say.

The trouble with much of the blogosphere is that people think they have to post all the time. It’s hard to have good content all the time. I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that mandates you have 8 posts a day, check your technorati ranking every hour, and do nothing but blog and go to conferences (or “un”conferences) with other bloggers. I think bloggers forget there’s other voices that are still being heard (although not as much as they used to be)

Mack Collier has a great post about the mainstream and the fact that the reality of the blogosphere and the reality of the rest of the world are still pretty far apart. It reminds me of a one of my posts from last October.

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Mac Vs PC

I’ve been meaning to post about the new Apple TV campaign. The one where a cool guy (the Mac) and a nerdy guy (the PC) stand in front of a white screen and converse about their differences.

I like the ads…and dislike them too. With such mental dichotomy, it’s been hard to craft the proper blog post. Luckily, I didn’t have to. Slate writer Seth Stevenson and his Ad Report Card sum up almost everything I have thought about the ads.

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Diet Coke Says “Drop Dead” to CGC

In yet another example of companies that “just don’t get it”, Coke is giving a chilly response to some free publicity as some Diet Coke and Mentos fans have used the two products in tandem with some entertaining results. The video of this phenomenon is spreading virally across the internet.

Here’s what the Coke old spokes-fogey Susan McDermott said in the article…”It’s an entertaining phenomenon. We would hope people want to drink it more than try experiments with it.”…McDermott also said that the “craziness with Mentos … doesn’t fit with the brand personality” of Diet Coke.

Let’s see. Some of your loyal customer base is generating free publicity for your product and spreading it virally. Those people and others they inspire are buying OVER 100 2-LITERS each of your product to pull this stunt off. This CGC has reached over 800,000 people so far FOR FREE. But you’re acting like a strict mother at the dinner table saying “Quit playing with your food and drink it” If some of my customer base is helping me to sell over 100 bottles of my product at a pop AND generating free ad/PR value…..I wouldn’t care if they bathed in it.

And by the way…the “brand personality of Diet Coke” could use some freshness anyway. Yet another example of what I beat my head up against the wall saying everyday…You are not in charge of what the brand stands for. You can nurture and help shape the brand. But in the end, the consumer dicates the brand.

The WSJ article compares the actions of Coke to that of FedEx when they cease&desisted themselves out of the free publicity they were getting from the FedEx Furniture guy. The comparison is straight on. It looks like Coke would have learned from the bad PR that the FedEx incident generated. When will companies start learning the lessons of the new marketing framework from other companies’ mistakes?

Mentos is embracing this, encouraging it, and riding it for all it’s worth. Good for them. (The Fresh-maker!)

Coke is not it. (The Stale-maker!)

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UPDATE:: Sorry. I got so carried away with the rant that I forgot the fun part. You can view the original video here. It’s supposed to simulate the water fountain show in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

If George Carlin were an ad copywriter

This week, I’ve seen lots of blogs point out and comment on an article from the June BusinessWeek about the Five Words to Never Use in an Ad. The article’s writer thinks those words are: Quality, Value, Service, Caring, and Integrity.

The article makes really good points about each word. I agree there are words that have lost alot of their power because marketers have used them so much and backed them up with empty promises. And while I’m glad someone is preaching a little common sense to battle the all the web “consultants” and spam advice about “magic ad words”….I don’t think you should ban certain words and never use them in your copy. You should use the best words in your copy that will sell the product.

Here’s a scenario that I’m almost positive that happened at some organization this week: The owner/CEO/manager of some company read the BusinessWeek article…looked at his own company’s advertising…saw one of the words….(Ask about our 24-Hour Service policy!) and then showed his great marketing knowledge by having all the ads redone. (And then think about the poor marketing schmuck at True Value Hardware….or ServiceMaster)

Instead of banning words to use in ads, I’d rather see companies start doing RELEVANT advertising. How about developing ads that attempt to sell the product? Oddly, those types of ads are the ones that are missing as I flip through the paper. And if I found a relevant ad that used the word “quality” in the proper context?…I might let it pass.

Words are important. You need to carefully weigh EACH word in every touchpoint you have with consumers. If one of these 5 words (or any word) doesn’t fit, delete it. But if it makes the ad work, use it.

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Secret of My Success

Follow-up to my Pontiac Apprentice post::
The http://www.pontiac.com/apprentice link now forwards to a page that has the following text…

“The “Raise the Roof” promotion was a resounding success and has officially ended.”

450,000 visitors short of your goal is a resounding success?!

Meanwhile, AT&T is calling their “delivered” campaign that raised the ire and the eyebrows of the blogosphere a “success”. (via AdJab)

“With awareness tracking registering at 80 percent, the brand campaign’s new tagline “Your world. Delivered.” looks to be quite a success at five months into its run.”

You mean to say that 80% of people recognize a brand name that’s been in existence for 121 years? No Way!!

Tracking and effectiveness are sometimes the hardest things to deal with in marketing. Luckily, there’s an easy two step process to determine the success of any marketing campaign…
Step 1 – Look in the cash register.
Step 2 – Is there more money in there because of the marketing?
If the answer is ‘YES”, then you have a success. If the answer is “NO”, then it was a failure.

Customer traffic and sales are ALWAYS the clear indicators of marketing success. Now with a “branding” campaign like AT&T’s, you can cut a little slack because the ROI on branding will trickle in over the next several years…but still, there should be an immediate uptick in sales/inquiries.

Pontiac and AT&T have to sugarcoat the results of their marketing to placate investors and others in the organization. But with your marketing, make sure that you’re not fooling yourself with your “success”.

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G6 Flops….Again

My main keynote, “Big Picture Marketing”, is built around 3 main points. The first, which is…

Marketing begins with the Product

…usually elicits a big “DUH” across the room until I start showing examples of how often this step is skipped. The main example I use in the speech to show the disconnect is how the boring “vanilla-ish-ness” of the Pontiac G6 killed/negated the Oprah PR effect when she gave 276 of them away on her show. (You can get a condensed version of what I talk about in this post.)

And now I have another angle to add to this story.

pontiac apprentice screenshotPontiac was the product placement for the season finale of The Apprentice. The new Pontiac Solstice and the new G6 convertible were featured. Pontiac also sponsored an online element. They bought spots during the shows instructing viewers to go to http://www.pontiac.com/apprentice to “Raise the Roof” of the new G6 convertible. When they did, they would have the chance to win a new G6 and Pontiac would donate $1 to one of around 300 charities of the consumer’s choice up to a maximum of $500,000. You could only vote once. There was a tally on the page to show how much had been donated so far.

This promotion ended last night. Guess how many people came? Only 50,000. That’s 450,000 short of what Pontiac was expecting.

Couple of thoughts….

1) Viewers are tired of The Apprentice. As discussed in this post, product placement is a very dangerous marketing tool. If you place during something that’s got buzz, you’re golden. If you place during a season finale that the network took out of May sweeps to avoid the stinker, you’re sunk.

Pontiac was golden when they first appeared on The Apprentice in season three as the teams created a brochure for the Solstice. It was one of the highest rated episodes of the season and created buzz about the Solstice marked by a 1,400 percent jump in traffic on the Pontiac website with the first 1,000 Solstices selling in just 41 minutes….And then you have Sean and Lee.

–Maybe “Shaguar” should have sponsored it…I thought Austin Powers had won when Sean drove off in the Pontiac saying “I’m the Apprentice, baby, yeah!” (verbatim)

2) The website was a thinly disguised ruse to collect a database for Pontiac. It had a very lame premise of clicking on the G6 and “raising its roof” (whoopie!) and then filling in your contact info. You had to be careful not to opt-in to any Pontiac spam. Consumers are leery of online data collection forms. They’ve been burned too many times.

3) As sad as the results of the promotion were…I think they could have been MUCH worse had it not been for something that Pontiac had no control over….the Charities. I received a couple of emails from the boards that I sit on for local chapters of national charities urging me to go vote and choose the charity to get the buck. While researching this post, I found that several of the charities had highlighted the link on their websites or had blogged about it. When Pontiac evaluates this promotion, they’re going to have to consider that some of the 50,000 came from neither The Apprentice nor from Pontiac.

4) Don’t put a tally board on your website to highlight your failure. Because occasionally, you’ll have a flop.

5) It all goes back to the 276 G6 cars that Oprah gave away. Why should I be interested in this car? Is there anything about it to make me look away from my multitude of daily distractions and explore it further?

Compare that to the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the Chevy SSR, all the hybrids, and many other types of vehicles. The marketing story is written INTO the product. You can easily tell me a story about a Hummer. You can easily tell me a story about someone who drives a hybrid. What’s the Pontiac G6 story?

You have to stop spending gads of money on marketing to push something that people are indifferent about buying. Spend money wisely upfront by developing a product/service that people can have a conversation about. Then cultivate that conversation through your marketing. It’s MUCH easier and more productive.

Like I said last week, Marketing is best built in…not slapped on.

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Sprint Phone Update

As you may remember, I’m a Sprint Ambassador in Kentucky with a Kansas City phone# (816-352-2009). Go figure.

Recently, Joseph Jaffe precipitated a Brandweek article that discussed the program. Highlights from the Brandweek article (subscription required)…

  • Sprint Nextel is assessing a recent promotion in which it tried to get free publicity in the blogosphere by giving top bloggers free phones and service.
  • The Sprint Ambassadors program, which is currently wrapping up after launching in January, was de-signed to promote Sprint’s Power Vision network, which offers music downloads, live TV and multiplayer games over mobile phones.
  • In all, about 400 people signed up for the program, said a Sprint rep. “We wanted to take a grassroots approach and give the phones to those people who were most likely to benefit and try to use the services,” the rep said.
  • Sprint launched the service last fall with no advertising.
  • The program netted the term “Sprint Ambasador Program” 389,000 hits on Google.

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Wine, cheese, and Tractors

First…a delightful tangent story…..

A few years ago, I boarded a flight in Nashville and found the entire C-level management team of the Tractor Supply Company (TSC) seated around me. Apparently, TSC was being featured in that month’s new issue of the in-flight magazine and this flight was a PR event / celebration.

Before takeoff, I engaged in the typical seatmate conversation with them….told them that my family and I had shopped at our local TSC since I was a little boy…still shopped there for my hobby farm…they asked what I did…etc. As usual with airline seatmates, that was the extent of our relationship.

During the flight, as a part of the PR gig, the stewardess brought out a bottle of wine. The TSC’ers enjoyed that wine with some pricey French cheese (fromage!) and grapes while I enjoyed my packet of peanuts and complimentary in-flight beverage service.

Prior to that flight, I had a brand image of TSC that could be described with bib-overalls, barbed wire and farm animal supplies. Now when I walk into a TSC, I can’t get the thought of wine and cheese out of my head. 99% of the farmers that have known in my life are not in the “wine, cheese, and grapes crowd”. They’re in the “Ski and a Moon Pie crowd”.

(And after 4 paragraphs, my point is….)

The changing face of the market shows that the “wine & cheese crowd” are now the core of the TSC demo. As open farmland is increasing sub-divided, people that now buy “farm stuff” are not full-time farmers. They’re people like me who either hobby-farm or suburb-ites who have a farm-type need.

Steve Hall over at AdRants shines a light on the new ad campaign from TSC. I’ve seen these ads and they freak me out a little. It’s like the Thunderbird puppets went out on the farm. (See the ads here.)

Other than freaky puppets, I think TSC is doing some good marketing. All of their stuff looks really sharp. I absolutely love the “Hatch Show Print look” of the print in both the previous and current ad campaigns.

Just next time, how about sharing that cheese?

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