Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time Off

Sorry kiddies, I've got a family emergency and will not be posting for a bit. I'll be back by the end of the week.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Me Vs. Someone Smarter - Commenting on Antony Young's Thoughts on Hulu

Antony Young is a smart guy. He's the CEO of a smart agency, Optimedia, which does a lot smart work. But, just because Mr. Young is so smart doesn't mean that we all have to agree with everything he says. Last Friday, Advertising Age ran a piece he wrote that urges NBC, Disney and Fox to reconsider their relationship with Hulu, which is a joint venture between NBC and Fox. (You can read in it's entirety here. )

So, anyway here are my comments in italics after his.

'We have to do this, otherwise others will'
Wrong. "Others" don't have the desirable, premium content that these networks own. These days, it is the networks that have the technological and legal means to largely control where and how an episode such as "Lost" can be viewed. However, Hulu is training the viewer to time shift out of prime-time. And this is eating away at the very economics that support the investment in creative development and production. Advertising, subscription and home entertainment revenues are the only workable model I can see to fund the cost and quality of TV content, beyond public broadcasting.

While I do agree that ad revenues fund the cost production for these studios, I disagree that that "'others' don't have desirable, premium content that these networks own." Executives - especially executives in media buying - need to come to terms with the fact that illegal downloads are not going away. Plus, with the economy down and connectivity speeds increasing on a regular basis, I'll bet you these downloads will increase and possibly take big chunks of specific demographics that media buyers find very profitable out off of television.

'The consumers want it, therefore we better give it to them'
Consumers want a lot of things they can't have. I'd love to have free meals at Denny's every day, or zero delays in and out of JFK, or environmentally friendly gas. But it just doesn't make business or financial sense for companies to provide this. Consumers understand this and they aren't demanding anytime, anywhere access to premium TV at no cost, but if it was offered up then they'd be mugs not to take it. TV should learn its lesson from the publishing industry. Almost every major magazine raced to put their content online, without, in my view, a clear strategy other than, "We need to put our content up there because there's an audience waiting." That ill-informed logic has ripped the heart out of the print business, in which there seems to be no way back.

I think television industry needs to look at the music industry before they look at print. First off, their products share more similarities than with print media, including substantially higher costs of production. Second, the music industry was completely unwilling to update to technological developments that were coming down the pipeline, and despite making a product that has demand they are still reeling to figure out a business plan because they thought they could ignore the internet. With consumer electronics changing every day, ignoring consumers and their big expenditures seems like a bad move too.

'Hulu is helping to increase TV audiences'

As a person that follows the ratings fairly closely, I can see no data that conclusively supports this. CBS continues to be the strongest Nielsen-rated network without the assistance of Hulu. Many of the premium cable channels that limit their content online are showing solid audience gains. I can see the sense in supporting selected catch-up episodes for program series, but the breadth and next-day access to prime-time shows, quite frankly, seems to be an incentive for smaller audiences. There's no evidence that newspaper websites are doing anything but eroding newspaper print circulations.

Okay, I agree with that. But, once again, as technology improves the information gleaned from these "smaller audiences" may end up being profitable. However, we also know that Nielsen's television ratings system may soon be a thing of the past. Relying on Nielsen in an argument now may make you look as though you were defending phrenology in ten years.

So here's the rub.

As a media buyer, I have no vested interest in whether the broadcaster shareholders support Hulu or not. Our livelihood as an agency relies neither on supporting the status quo of traditional media nor blindly pushing the popular wisdom of digital everything. Optimedia as an agency has shifted decent budgets into Hulu this past year and we will continue to support this media company with advertising dollars as it grows audience and influence.

But in putting on my business-consultant hat for a moment, my advice to Jeff Zucker, Peter Rice and Bob Iger is: you need to reevaluate your Hulu strategy. Commercial TV still has plenty of life in it yet. So let it live. And turn off Hulu before it turns you off.

Okay, I understand your argument; but, it sounds like you're saying "the ship is sinking but it's more of a Lusitania than a Titanic so let's go sip champagne and play shuffle board while we wait for the rescue boat."

If the studios don't figure this out now, then they are going to have to invest more in smaller programming for smaller audiences. While I love shows like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and think the world would be a better place if more programming was akin to their style, the cost of producing that many shows could be much larger. From a media buying perspective, this super fragmentation of the audience would make life easier because audiences would be better defined and advertisers might actually pay more knowing that they can speak directly to a group without a disinterested halo forming.

Hulu is not perfect by any means. I actually prefer streaming video through Netflix. If Hulu were to raise their streaming quality to that of Netflix, then maybe people will pay for it. As for now, don't throw the baby out with the bath water and pull the plug on Hulu.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oh Levis, You're So Mayo and So Are You Miracle Whip

I like pants just as much as any person out there. In fact, my favorite pair of pants are my Levi's 501s. The San Francisco brand is obviously facing competition on both the low and high end, so it's understandable that they would want to invest in strengthening their image with a fancy ad campaign. So... Why not have some crackly voice reading Walt Whitman with unsexy hipster like people?

What's really funny is that the font that is used in this spot is eerily similar to something... Oh wait! Here it is!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Seriously Yahoo, What's This Rebranding All About?

Yahoo took their rebranding to the streets recently with a bunch of lame spots that look like they could have come from any point in the existence of the internet. I really don't know what they were thinking that personalizing a homepage and saving search information would be the thing to bring people back from iGoogle or The New York Times or any other popular homepage. Personalization had been a staple selling point of ISPs like AOL or Prodigy, why bring that back?

I can understand that as Bing is being introduced into the Yahoo platform they may be able to say that a user will have better ads served while searching, but this doesn't come close to that. Moreover, if there is one lesson to be learned in the search engine wars it's that better ads do not attract users, it's just better searches.

Finally, the some of the models selected for this campaign look like American Apparel ads without the ironic 80s porn vibe, which is what barely makes American Apparel interesting. (In fact, they are now using real porn stars thus making their ads even less ironic. I was going to put a link to the ad, but I decided to avoid the porn searching traffic so just look it up at Google Images, you cannot miss it.) So, here we have Yahoo trying to hit on this concept while still attempting to keep it family friendly. Maybe my mind is buried too deeply in the cognitive dissonance of the advertising world, but what in this campaign is bringing minds back to Yahoo? Why do they think that this reduction to vague simplicity is going to win back users?

Apparently, I am not alone in my disdain for this campaign as Advertising Age reported today that Yahoo has brought in Goodby Silverstein & Partners to help move this thing in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

At Least This Makes Sarah Palin Look Bad

I tried to play it fair during the election and point out gaffes and communication problems with an even hand, but now that we're far enough into the year I might as well say that anything that makes the Palin family look foolish is fine by me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How Are Apps Changing Experiential Marketing?

With tons of iPhone, Blackberry, and Android product related apps coming out every day, I am beginning to wonder about the changing dynamics experiential marketing. When I first left home and headed to college, I found myself knee deep in brands trying to make me a loyalist through interaction. The most common form of experiential marketing came through the free sample. Lately, I feel like marketers are moving away form the sample and straight to the buzz generating that phone apps can create. But, I keep coming back to the question: Is it worth the investment?

On one side of the argument, an app can bring a brand to people who may or may not interact with it on a regular basis. Take the Pizza Hut app as an example:

Unless a customer is extremely familiar with The Hut's menu and the local phone number, he or she will have to go dig through the menu drawer in the the kitchen to look for a coupon where the customer could find another pizza delivery deal. The Pizza Hut application circumvents this treacherous behavior.

However, most importantly, the app serves a purpose because it brings the products to the consumer.

Is this better than handing out a free pizza like Orpah and Kentucky Grilled Chicken? It all depends on the roll out. In this case, Pizza Hut got the app on a recent iPhone 3Gs commercial and the equation was balanced out. Buzz was generated, the app was downloaded, and pizzas were purchased.

Even - and much to my surprise - apps for banks are worthwhile as long as you never lose you phone. In the midst of the economic crisis, banks were pushing out apps and I was screaming, "You're doing this with my money!" like an irate account director; yet, they proved to be pretty useful for people like me. As a marketing tool, these apps are actually a selling point as long they are functionally good.

From an experiential marketing standpoint, apps like this are neutralizing the banking experience, which is exactly what they need. The less I interact with human beings, the less likely I am to have a nervous breakdown in public. The only way to generate buzz in banking lately seems to come from two strategies:

1) Make the experience as easy and painless as possible.
2) Offer things like interest, which Chase and Citi do not pay on checking and savings accounts.

After all, who would expect a bank to pay you for holding your money? They should have the right to take out $6.00 a month for inactivity... That's a fight for another day. Since banks cannot follow through on the simple promises anymore, reliable apps are a great way to keep their customer base in line and keep them talking positively about their bank.

On the other side of the argument you have apps sponsored by consumer products. The other day I wrote about Pepsi's "Amp Up Before You Score" and why it will not generate the right buzz for the product.

What is the right buzz for Amp? In my mind, it has to be "it tastes/works/makes me feel better than Red Bull." Product differentiation in the mind of the consumer will not come from establishing a link to a lifestyle in all cases, especially in a market with such a low barrier of entry.

Besides, if you really want males to drink amp to gain courage you need to be where they think they need courage most, bars. There are tons of promotion companies out there who are ready and able to have samples at the hottest spots, and - most importantly - they know the local market.

With this in mind, can a CPG have a good app? Yes, but it really should lead the individual toward purchasing the product. Branded entertainment can only get people so excited, and trying to be hip cannot replace quality.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pepsi Invents the App for Ultra Douche Bags!

Well, Apple's app ads have proven themselves right again; there really is an app for everyone.

Now mega-losers can pretend to have sexual conquests and share their fish-tales with their mega-loser friends with the "Amp Up Before You Score App." But, will this get these guys to put down their Jager bombs and Heinekens, and pick up their iPhones? More importantly, will it get males 18 to 35 to switch from Red Bull to Amp?

No, probably not.

Let's look at another product that markets to the aspirational residents of the Jersey shore, Axe. Being a male right in the the middle of the 18 to 35 demo, I can honestly tell you that 99.99% percent of the males I interact with do not purchase Axe brand products. So, how do they move so much product?

It turns out that all I have to do is ask my girlfriend who teaches 6th graders. A quick ethnography will show you that the boys look up to the men in the Axe ads, and purchase the products in hopes of getting assaulted by packs of women. Therefore, this app would be perfect for them but they don't have iPhones. (Yes, some of them have iPod Touches but that's a pretty small group.) This doesn't really seem like a good investment from that point of view.

I think branded content can be extremely effective if it's implemented in the right way. Just trying to be fun, cool, or even innovative is not going to cut it. There must be an endgame that brings the consumer's consciousness to the product throughout the interaction.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Week In Review

Hey kiddies, let's take a look at what happened this week.

Ralph Lauren Makes a Bratz Doll

Uh oh! Ralph Lauren released a severely photo-shopped print ad this week instantly upsetting - and for good reason - every woman's rights group in existence. The unintentional comedy factor of the model's hand on her hip makes it seem like she is propping up her improbable torso.

Advertisers Stay With Letterman

After an extortion attempt from a crazed CBS employee regarding his affairs with staff members, David Letterman apologized to his wife on air and got huge ratings. So, it comes as no surprise that advertisers are not going anywhere. Lesson: Eyes = Ad $s.

The Stay Puff Marshmallow Man Fights for Good.

TBWA/Chiat/Day rocked with this beautiful new spot running across the air waves. It has given new life to an old brand icon by turning the Michelin Man from guy who lost his puppy (see below) into a defender of gas mileage. This feels like the first ad in a long time from the manufacturer that had some real confidence to it. While the ad below trumpets reliability, this new spot speaks directly to a need that is at the forefront of the consumer's mind.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Say Goodbye to Viva Viagra

Today, AdAge has reported that Pfizer is switching agencies from McCann Erickson to McGarryBowen. I can only hope that this will finally mean the end of the Viva Viagra campaign.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Their Protests Are Better

(Photo from New York Times)

Walk around New York City, or any major metropolitan area here in the US, and you're bound to see some sort of protest. When it comes to communication and moving along a message these assemblies - whether drum circles or tea parties - never seem to leave anyone swayed.

Over in Europe, they still know how to storm the Bastille. In fact, they are still so good at protesting that when dairy farmers take to the streets this photo hits the homepage of the New York Times.

More to come a little later today...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Absolute Worst Ad of The Year

There have been some lousy ads made this year but none quite as totally horrible as this:

For the background on how this whole thing unfolded click here.

Rather than focus on the obvious of stating why this ad is an abomination, let's take a look at what the World Wildlife Fund did in reaction. First, if you were to go to YouTube and search WWF 911 ad you will find that the WWF has paid to have the following spot come up first.

As far as apologies go, Mr. Roberts hits all of the topics needed.

1) As the chief representative of the organization, he said why he was apologizing.

"I cannot imagine any sane individual using those images to advance any cause."

2) He said what they are doing.

"We are reviewing all the circumstances that led to this ad."

3) He said what they are going to do about it.

"... And we will do everything within our power to remove it from the internet and everywhere else that it exists."

Now that a month has passed, it's easy to see that the WWF has not reached its goal of getting the spot off of the internet. They've done a pretty good job of making sure that their statement and video comes up first, which is very important, but they have yet to delete it from the cloud. It will be interesting to see what happens in the upcoming months as the organization moves forward.