Branding Business Marketing Relationship Marketing

It’s not “My Generation” anymore

Fan Jeff:  I’m really mad at Pete Townsend for whoring out “My Generation” to Pepsi.

Marketer Jeff:  It’s a good commercial, and I think it works.

Creator Jeff:  A creator needs to be true to his inner voice. He doesn’t create for the fan, but if it’s good, people will respond to it.

Fan Jeff:  Yes, but this is The Who, the ultimate “stick it to the man, cause he’s gonna stick it to you” band. These are they guys who devoted a whole album to making fun of commercials and commercialism called “The Who Sell Out” way back in the 60’s.

Creator Jeff:  A creator owns his creativity, and he can do anything he wants with it. Pete needs to eat. Fan Jeff, you need to get over it and grow up. This is business.

Fan Jeff:  Rock and Roll isn’t about business. Not to a fan. It’s about meaning, and belonging, and understanding. And in The Who’s case, their songs are about seeing through the games society plays with the individual. You know, “Meet the new boss…Same as the old boss”  and “You tried to walk on the trail we were carving, now you know that we framed you.”

Marketing Jeff:  Well, clearly a fan’s relationship to a brand and its products doesn’t always work out the way a brand wants. Brands can influence the relationship, but they don’t control it.

Creator Jeff:  This isn’t the first time the Who has used a song to sell soda. And what about concert tour sponsorships?

Fan Jeff:  Yes, but this is “My Generation.” It’s not Michael Jackson. This was a battle cry. This mattered to people. How many of us do you think are going to run out and buy a Pepsi now because it’s cooler since they used this song? Did they think of that when they made the commercial? By using “My Generation” they proved they weren’t part of my generation.

Marketing Jeff:  So, Fan Jeff, you’re saying that if they were trying to appeal to fans, they’re actually disenfranchising them?

Creator Jeff:  This is rubbish. I’m not going to let a bunch of sycophantic, whiny babies who think they’re even part of the process dictate what I do.

Fan Jeff:  Fans aren’t part of the process? Look, when I was growing up, I had a few friends who were older and had been in Vietnam. When they found that out I thought Quadrophenia was the best album ever written, one of them, Terry, said to me, “To you it’s just music. To us, it was our life. It was our anthem.” Are those the whiny babies you’re talking about who aren’t part of the process, Creator Jeff?

Creator Jeff:  Creators sometimes make things that don’t resonate with fans. Dylan went electric, and fans hated it. Springsteen went acoustic, and fans hated it. Following your muse is dangerous, but it’s what you do.

Marketing Jeff:  Brands make mistakes too. They do line extensions that don’t fly. Remember McDonald’s Arch Deluxe? They change their product and sales plummet. Remember New Coke?

Fan Jeff:  Look, you’re both missing the point. I am pissed at Pete Townsend. I can’t hear “My Generation” again and have it mean what it used to mean because of what Pete has done. Just like when they licensed “Love Reign O’er Me” for a 7Up commercial back in the ’80s. It took something away from me.

Marketing Jeff:  Wait a second. You still love “Revolution,” even though Nike used it.

Fan Jeff:  Yeah, but John Lennon was dead already. And I think the label owned it, and I think the Beatles sued. But I was mad at Nike and didn’t wear their sneakers for a long, long time.

Creator Jeff:  Yeah, and later Yoko let them use “Instant Karma.” Once you die, man, everyone gets in line to pick at your corpse.

Marketing Jeff:  Well, I think it’s pretty obvious that this is highly-charged territory. I think one thing we all can agree with is that the relationship between brands and fans is influenced by lots of factors, and neither party controls it. So now it’s time for my question.

Fan Jeff:  What question?

Marketing Jeff:  You know, I always end every blog post with the question, “Can someone please explain…?”

Fan Jeff:  No man, not this time. Just leave it like The Who wrote it, “…Can’t explain, I think it’s love…”

Branding Business Directed Advertising Integrated Marketing Marketing

Admit it — you love the ShamWow! commercial

Normally when I’m watching TV with my wife, we DVR the shows we want to watch and fast forward through the commercials. (Alone, I’m more likely to indulge in a few guilty pleasures, like the “We are the champions” Wal-Mart “game day” ad.)

The other day, though, we were skipping the ads when a ShamWow! commercial came on. I rewound it because I wanted her to watch it.

The ShamWow! DRTV ad is a masterpiece of the genre. If someone asked me what direct response TV ads were, I would show them ShamWow! as an example of the best of them.

I could go into the reasons why it’s good:  classic, clean demonstration format; compelling, snappy dialogue; believable offer that really does seem too good to pass up; low production cost; high replay value to support frequency… the list goes on and on.

But here’s how I know it’s good: every time I see it — and I watch it every time it comes my way — I want to pick up the phone and fork over $19.95 for the special offer, not available in stores, of 4 large and 4 mini Sham Wows. (I don’t, mind you… because then I’d have to clean something, and homey don’t play that. Also, there is the teensy-tiny possibility that it doesn’t actually work quite as well as the ad claims.)

I’ve only had this reaction once before in my life — over 20 years ago, the first time I read one of the most famous and compelling ads ever written:  “They laughed when I sat down at the piano. But when I started to play…”

John Caples' seminal 1925 ad, "They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play!--
John Caples' seminal 1925 ad, "They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play!--

There I was, a newly-minted direct marketing copywriter at my first job, reading an ad that was written in 1925, and I was trying to figure out how to respond to the ad so I too could learn how to play the piano and impress my friends.

That ad was written by a man named John Caples, and it happened to be one of the first ads that he ever wrote. For those of you who don’t know the name, maybe this will put him into context: the most prestigious direct marketing award in the world is named after him. In 1932 he wrote the book, “Tested Advertising Methods”  that basically laid the groundwork for all direct marketing.  Ad Age named him number 21 of their 100 People of the Century.

Both the ShamWow! ad and the Caples ad have one thing in common: they understand that selling is storytelling.

Good storytelling doesn’t have to be as long as a Caples ad — the classic Volkswagen “Lemon” ad told just as compelling a story in far fewer words. And it doesn’t have to be as pushy as a ShamWow! commercial — Blendtec’s “Will It Blend” videos on YouTube barely sell at all, and yet the powerful story they tell has made the product a superstar.

Too often today good storytelling is overshadowed by shiny new technology and savy media buying, both of which have their place.

But as I watch the ShamWow! commercial, which is basically nothing but a guy, a towel and a puddle, I wonder if we’ve lost sight of what really sells product:  a compelling story, delivered to the right audience, in a cost effective way.

Which brings me to the upcoming Super Bowl. On average, advertisers will pay $3 million for a 30-second spot, according to this article on And despite a tough economy and shrinking ad budgets, NBC is 90% sold out for the game.

How many of those advertisers will spend their 30 seconds telling a compelling story? How many of them will get more value out of those ads than they would out of the same money spent in targeted direct marketing? How many of them will even remember to integrate the ad with a search engine presence — a notorious  missed opportunity repeated annually by most advertisers!

And don’t trot out the old “We’re buying reach” argument. You can buy more reach for less money in plenty of other places.

Can you imagine ShamWow! or John Caples wasting $3 million on a Super Bowl ad?

So can someone please explain to me how anyone can justify spending $3 million dollars on a 30-second commercial these days, when there are so many other tested, trackable, profitable ways to spend their client’s money?

Business Directed Advertising Integrated Marketing Marketing

The Most Sexy, Surprising and Shocking Marketing Numbers of 2008

It’s the end of the year, and that means it’s time for bloggers everywhere to do one of two things:  an annual recap, or predictions for next year. I’d like to examine some marketing numbers that are in turn sexy, surprising and shocking.


Let’s start with my favorite number of the whole year, and it’s about as sexy as a marketing number gets:  52% of  women 39-44 would rather give up sex for 2 weeks than internet access for the same period of time. It’s part of a new survey by Harris Interactive sponsored by Intel that finds that most Americans feel Internet access is essential to their lives. The survey also says that 82% say having internet enabled devices help them stay current on the economy and 87% say it’s helped them save money by:  price comparison research before buying (84%), simply shopping online (66%), or by finding coupons, discounts, or special internet-only promotions (65%).

With numbers like that, combined with the retail meltdown, rising costs of commercial space and inventory, and the uncertain cost of energy, can we as marketers continue to look at internet retailing as an ugly stepchild, with a mere fraction of advertising and marketing spending?


Now my second favorite numbers: 23% and 36%. They’re the number of adults over 65 who play games, and the percentage of those who play every day. Why are they surprising? The 36% is higher than any other age group except teens.  That’s right — according to the Pew Internet Project’s Annual Gadget Survey, people over 65 play games more frequently than any other adults. A few other interesting numbers from this survey:   53% and 21%.  It’s the number of adults (18+) who play video games and the number who play every day! And of course, no surprise here:  97% of teens and 81.9% of 18-29-year olds play games.

With numbers like that, can most of us continue to ignore gaming platforms as marketing mediums any longer, or avoid figuring out an effective and hopefully respectful way to communicate with consumers using this medium?


My third and final number is 16%. It’s the number of high school and college students who actually pay attention to marketing emails, according to an eROI survey reported on Marketing Charts.  And it’s shocking given that these are email super users. On average, they’ve been sending emails since they were 13, had email addresses for 8 years and have 2.4 email addresses each. They love email:  26% say it’s their favorite form of communication. (Of course, 37% choose texting.) 55% of them check their email more than 3 times a day.

And yet only 16% read marketing emails and 66% of them say that even if they read an email, they never take action afterward. (I know what you’re thinking:  a 16% open rate and a 34% conversion rate would be great, if it was your email. But that’s not an open rate, it’s an avoidance rate and it’s a nightmare for student marketers.)

With numbers like these, can we continue sending messages that are innocuous at best and spam at worst, rather than looking to use new technologies to make more engaging connections with the lucrative teenage consumer?

So, what are my predictions for next year? Sorry, my crystal ball is cracked and my prognostic abilities are more willful than prescient. For instance, some look at Twitter’s 600% growth in 2008 and the $1 Million in revenue Dell attributes to Twitter and see the next big marketing tool. I’m not sure what I see, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets overwhelmed with poorly conceived and executed marketing messages and become less use-worthy than it is now. (See, willful — I really don’t want to have to learn how to use Twitter.)

With sexy, surprising and shocking numbers like these concerning critical demographic groups like women, seniors and students, what I will do is leave you with one question to ponder as we enter 2009:

Can someone please explain to me how any marketers can even think of doing any business as usual in 2009?

Integrated Marketing PR and News Social Media


I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little tired of hearing:

“Blogging is dead.”

“Newspapers are dead.”

“Email is dead.”

“The 30-second commercial is dead.”

“Print is dead.”

“Magazines are dead.”

“Paid search is dead.”

“Affiliate marketing is dead.”

“Behavioral targeting is dead.”

“Pop-ups are dead.”

“Friendster is dead.”  Well, okay, I’ll give you that one.

What is it with this feeding frenzy to pronounce media channels and tactics dead?

I’m as guilty as the next marketing guy. The account people at my agency, Tanen Directed Advertising, are getting sick of hearing me gleefully pronounce newspapers dead, as if I’ve somehow got a stake in the sale of their headstones and caskets.

And I’m just as wrong as everyone else, too, at least about Friendster and newspapers.

Friendster isn’t dead… it’s just different. 85 million members strong isn’t dead. It’s just moved to the Phillipines and Southeast Asia. (39% of it members are in the Phillipines.) But even in the US,  Friendster gets 2.6 million monthly unique visitors according to Quantcast.

Newspapers aren’t dead either, they’re just moving online. According to a Nielsen Online report done for the Newspaper Association of America, newspaper websites had 68.3 million unique visitors on average in Q3 2008, which is nearly 41.4% of all internet users, and is up 15.8% over the same period last year. It was also a record for page views, just over 3.5 billlion per month, which is 25.2% higher than the same quarter last year and the highest since the NAA started tracking it in 2004. The same quarter set records for page views, pages per person, time spent per person, and visits per person. In other words, more people are visiting newspaper websites more often, spending more time there, and getting more information there. (And those sites accept advertising.)

I just saw a great video interview with Michael Rosenblum at the Society of Editors conference 2008. He talks about how newspapers have a great, but dwindling window of opportunity, to retain and capitalize on delivering news to their audiences, as long as they keep the news and get rid of the paper. It’s worth watching, especially for his analogy of the death of the whale oil industry in New Bedford, and it’s here on Diablogue. (I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Seth Godin’s great post, “Do you own trees?” from all the way back in June of this year.)

We live in interesting times. The rate of change is amazing. Blogging, just barely out of the womb, is being declared dead yet again. (For a great post and history of Blogging obituaries, see B.L. Ochman’s What’s Next Blog post, “The Annual Death of Blogging is Baaaaaack!” here. )

This is what media fragmentation looks like. This is what technological revolution and social upheaval looks like.

Everything is changing, but that doesn’t mean it’s dying. Shrinking, retrenching, transforming… but not dying. And yet we seem obsessed with premature declarations of death that set the stage for us to glorify and justify the media channel or tactic that we like much better… this week.

Can somebody please explain to me when we’re going to grow up, consign “…is dead” to the trash heap of overdone phrases (along with “…is the new black”) and start seeing the turmoil for the opportunity it represents?

Marketing Partnerships Misleadership PR and News Relationship Marketing Social Media

Obama and the AKC: Another Shaggy Dog Story?

Back on July 10th, in my post “Is Obama Going To The Dogs?” I wrote about the Presidential Pup website where the AKC was holding an election to decide which dog the Obama girls should get. I wrote in glowing terms about what I thought was an excellent and timely marketing partnership.

And a successful one… at least for the AKC. Since they started, there have been 42,000 votes and a clear spike in traffic. According to Quantcast, site visits to, which were hovering around 2.5 million before the start of the promotion at the beginning of July rose sharply over that month to a high of about 2.8 million in early August, only to drop again to their pre-promotion level by late August.

By the way, the Poodle won the election.

So when President-elect Obama mentioned his canine promise to his girls in his acceptance speech, I fully expected there to be some connection to the AKC partnership, at least in the days ahead.

Empathetically, I thought, if I were the AKC marketing director, and Obama didn’t mention our partnership at this global-attention focal point, I’d feel a bit ripped off. Talk about a missed opportunity. The whole reason to do a marketing partnership like that with a highly public cause is for the attention it brings. Even more problematic, he mentioned shelter dogs, not exactly the territory the AKC tends to pee in.

I went to the Obama site. Nothing about the AKC and the Presidential Pup site.

I just spent the last week at Ad:Tech listening to all the ways in which the Obama campaign has rewritten the rules of online marketing. According to Shelly Lazarus, Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy Mather Worldwide, the Obama campaign is the “best CRM campaign that has ever been run.”  For the Obama campaign to be involved in a marketing partnership and not to mention it on their site isn’t a mistake, it’s an impossibility.

So then I went to the Presidential Pup site at the AKC.  The site landing pages were updated on November 5th to reflect Obama’s victory and discuss his public reiteration of his promise to his girls. The site discusses the voting, and goes on to say “We hope the Obamas consider the survey results,” said AKC Spokesperson Lisa Peterson.

“We hope”?  “Considers”?  That didn’t exactly sound like a partnership to me, and it certainly didn’t sound like the tone of the original site.

Somebody at the AKC is definitely on the ball, though. In addition to the speed with which they updated their landing page, the page has a picture of two adorable poodle pups with the headline “A Pair of Poodles for Pennsylvania Avenue” and the caption which partially reads “A pair of six-week-old Toy Poodle puppies rescued by Flora’s Pet Project/Poodle Rescue Connecticut visited the American Kennel Club offices in Manhattan today to be photographed in hopes of catching the attention of the Obama family. The pups will be available for new homes in early January. They can be adopted by contacting…”

That’s great marketing. Obama specifically mentioned shelter dogs, so the AKC adds the “rescue dog” element to make their efforts more relevant. (As I recall, there was no mention of rescue dogs the first time around.)

They’re also spreading a wide net to attract attention. They made sure to mention that it was reported that Veep-Elect Biden has said his wife told him that if he got the vice presidency and got elected, he could get a dog. This too is good internet marketing, adding additional key words and relevance;  last time, they made sure they got the McCains in the story as well.

The site goes on to say “No matter what breed the Obamas or Bidens choose, the AKC hopes they can assist both families. “I would be happy to personally assist Obama and Biden in identifying a responsible breeder if they are looking for a puppy,” said AKC President & CEO Dennis Sprung”

The first site really made it seem like the Obama’s were along for the ride.  But now, it’s clear that wasn’t the case.

Nearly a decade ago, in our book, Making Money While Making a Difference, Dr. Richard Steckel and I wrote about the dangers of misleading the public when it comes to cause related marketing.  It’s only gotten worse since.  When you pretend to be helping a cause or when you aid and abet consumers in reaching the conclusion that you are aligned with a cause or group when you are really just trying to cash in on their publicity, you are in danger of a serious, negative backlash.

If the AKC were aligned with Obama, wouldn’t he have mentioned it in one of his long and involved post-acceptance speech statements about the promised pooch?

If this were the marketing partnership it seemed to be, then wouldn’t Obama have mentioned it at least once during the many times he’s had to address this overwhelmingly important issue since winning the nomination?

It’s not his fault if the issue keeps coming up: I mean, our economy is in the tank, the mid-East is loping towards a meltdown, attack dog Rahm Emanuel is the chief of staff of the face of change, and the press keeps wasting our time on shaggy dog stories.

Oh wait, so am I.

No, I’m not.

According to Wikipedia, “Shaggy dog stories play upon the audience’s preconceptions of the art of joke telling. The audience listens to the story with certain expectations, which are either simply not met or met in some entirely unexpected manner.” While I don’t claim that the AKC intended to amuse us, I do think their whole presidential pup story is a bad joke with utterly unmet expectations and an unexpected conclusion.

I’m writing about a marketing disconnect. A missed opportunity. Or, more likely, a misleading one. Just another example of misleadership, this one on the part of the AKC.

What do you think?  Can someone please explain to me whether the AKC is practicing good marketing or misleadership?

Directed Advertising Integrated Marketing

In Praise of the Lowly Yellow Pages

If you asked my clients and colleagues whether I’m a lo-tech or hi-tech kind of marketer, they’d all say the latter.  It’s a rare strategy session that I don’t find some way to suggest search, or content syndication, or blogging, or widgets, or behavioral, or email, or… well, you get the picture.

But the fact is, like my agency, Tanen Directed Advertising, I am actually channel neutral.  If a tactic works, I say, use it.  Not blindly — you need a strategy, and the tactic has to have a measurable chance at achieving your strategic goals, but if it does, I say, go for it.

And that’s why I’m writing about Yellow Page Directory advertising. And no, not the online local search kind. I’m talking yellow cardstock cover, dead tree, “pile three of them on a chair so your 4-year old can see the monitor” kind of yellow pages.

You see, it seems that the lowly, lo-tech yellow pages has a ridiculous click thru rate.  According to a recent study, 78% of directory users contact an average of 2 businesses after referencing a directory.  The most popular action taken is picking up the phone, which happens 93% of the time.  But it’s not limited to a phone call: 31% show up in person, 10% go online, and 1% get in touch through the mail.

Those are monster numbers.  And when you consider that for many categories, there is far less noise and competition than Google, they’re even more compelling.

We all love search because we know that anyone who is in the act of searching is in some stage of the buying cycle.  (According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 81% of all internet users “look online for information about a product or service they are thinking of buying.”)

Local search is growing because it turns out that people who search online sometimes shop locally. (The increasing adoption and use of mobile phones and the growing utility and quality of mobile search isn’t hurting, either.)

Unlike most other forms of advertising, both types of search are non-intrusive and non-interruptive.  They are, in fact, requested and highly desired services.

The same logic holds true with yellow pages.  In fact, didn’t search really start with the yellow pages?  (This reminds me a little of how television advertising is beginning to return to it’s sponsor-driven, branded content and product placement roots)

The study was conducted by Knowledge Networks for the Association of Directory Publishers, so it’s lucky for them that the numbers came out as positive as they did.  But I don’t doubt their findings.  After all, how many times have you reached for the yellow pages in the last few months?  Not many, perhaps.  But, when you did, what did you do next?  See what I mean.

That’s the point.  We all still use the yellow pages sometimes, some of us more than others.  And when we do, we take action.  (Of course, that action isn’t always positive.  I’ve never thrown my computer across the room while cursing Google the way I have my local yellow pages because I can’t figure out in which poorly defined and barely indexed category my local movie 10-Plex is to be found.  Hint: It’s not movie theaters or cinemas, which aren’t mentioned at all.  And if you’re silly enough to look up  “Movies” you’ll be rewarded with “See: CDs, Records and Tapes, Retail; Video Tapes & DVDs Rental & Sales.”  Nope, it’s under Theatres, along with the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, Greenwich Shakespeare Co. , New Canaan Playhouse, Stamford Center for the Arts, etc.)

Now, I’m not suggesting we shift our entire budgets out of AdWords and into printed yellow pages directories.  But given the ridiculously low comparative cost of yellow pages advertisements, the extremely long ad life/placement persistence and the comparatively high level of response surrounding their use, can someone please explain to me why more businesses aren’t including them in their media mix?

Relationship Marketing Social Media

I have joined a triiibe and I love it

Seth Godin has a new book called Tribes. Before it was published, back in July, he built a social community around it called Triiibes that I was fortunate enough to be able to join.  (By fortunate, I mean that as a regular reader of his blog I read the single notice he posted about the new book and a limited, exclusive offer he made: buy an advanced copy of the book and you can join this unique community.) After a very limited time, membership to the community closed, and won’t be reopened again until some time this month.

In all honesty, I’m not really a social media guy. I rarely visit my facebook or myspace pages. I under-utilize LinkedIn. But I’ve been a more regular visitor and poster to Triiibes. I’ve gotten great value and given a little back, too. It’s been a great experience for me, because I finally understand the passion and connection that social media members can feel about their community.

The most interesting aspect of Triiibes, for me, was the casebook that we Triiibes members created, a companion e-book to Seth’s own book, Tribes. That casebook is now online. You can get yourself a pdf copy of The Tribes Casebook here.

The case study I wrote was called “The Tribe of Marrus.” It appears on page 79 of the ebook. It’s about my friend, Marrus, an artist, who I also blogged about in a post here called “Portrait of the artist as an integrated marketer.

There are plenty of great case studies about tribes of all kinds. It’s excellent reading, and I highly recommend it.

I’ve been reading Seth Godin for about 8 years now. I’ve seen him speak more than once. I’ve watched with glee each time he rewrites the rules of publishing when he comes up with a new way to market his latest book.

He’s been a leading pioneer of “the new marketing” and an honest, inspirational voice. He’s one of the most published business book writers ever, a voice respected by the people running the most successful companies in the world.

Every once in a while, I see one of his books on the shelf of a client or a prospect, and we instantly get into a vibrant discussion about Seth and new marketing. Invariably, we end up reaching a point in the discussion where one of us or the other says, “How come everybody isn’t getting into this stuff?”

I’ve discussed Seth’s thinking with other marketing professionals I know, usually ones with decades of experience and perspective. They frequently net out at the answer that there’s always new thinking that argues that the old thinking is wrong or outdated, and only time will tell. Until then, they’re not ready to throw out the old ways.  They’re too invested in them, and they’ve worked for all these years, they say.

Not me. As a marketer, my only real rule is do what works best (as long as it’s ethical and honest.) Anything less isn’t worth doing, is it?

Not only am I a member of triiibes, but now that I think about it, it turns out I’m a member of The Tribe of Seth Godin, too.

Can someone please explain to me why everyone who works in advertising and marketing isn’t one too?

Integrated Marketing Relationship Marketing

Cheesy Reading on the Silk Soy Milk Box

Are you the kind of person who enjoys reading product packaging at the table?

I am. I’ll read anything, even if I don’t eat it. The story of how my natural Sea Salt gets from the sun drenched shores of the Mediterranean Sea to my table. The instructions on how to properly fold a US Flag as part of a Leann Rimes/US Flag promotion on the back of a Kelloggs Corn Flakes box. The exotic ingredients below the parrot on the beautiful label of a bottle of tangy Pickapeppa Sauce from Shooters Hill, Jamaica. (Mangoes and raisins? Mmmm.)

Recently I was reading the side of the Silk Soy Milk carton while having breakfast with my family, and found myself first educated, then disappointed and finally, offended.

Now don’t get me wrong. Silk has a great story, which I learned from reading the side of the carton. I quote, “Did you know that every delicious drop of silk is powered by clean, renewable wind energy?” On the carton I also discovered that Silk has 11 essential vitamins and minerals, natural Omega-3s and antioxidants, 20% less fat and calories than 1% milk, 30% of your daily calcium per serving, and 6.25grams of soy protein per serving.

So I’m thinking now I’m an expert on Silk Soy Milk. I could answer any Soy-based question they asked me on Jeopardy, even one in Final Jeopardy for all the marbles. I could be the lifeline a friend calls on “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” when the question is “How many grams of protein are in an 8 oz. glass of Silk Soy Milk?”

And then I get to the “Test Your Soy-Q” side of the box. Man, am I ready to rock or what?

What follows is the actual copy on the carton (and as such I’m sure is Copyright 2008 by Silk or whoever owns it now):

  1. Silk is full of surprises — including some flavors and varieties you might not expect. Can you spot the imposter in a Silk Soymilk lineup?   A) Silk Light Vanilla   B) Silk Banana   C) Silk Chai   D) Silk Plus Fiber
  2. Silk’s so delicious, it’s easy to get carried away. However, Silk is not intended for use in:  A) Coffee   B) Macaroni & Cheese   C) The Bath   D) Smoothies
  3. Nine out of ten Silk drinkers agree that SIlk tastes best:   A) Nice and cold   B) Among friends   C) On weekends   D) All of the above

Not done learning? Good for you! Visit


  1. B — Yes, we have no banana. But we do have Vanilla, Very Vanilla, Chocolate Mocha, Cofee, Plain and unsweetened — Plus a few more that we can’t squeeze on this carton. (Visit us online to learn more!)
  2. C — Although we’ve heard some stories.
  3. D — The tenth guy thinks it tastes best in the bath.

Shockingly, I didn’t get a single answer correct. So, why am I disappointed and offended by this cheesy yet innocuous piece of drivel on the side of a box of liquid squeezed out of a bean masquerading as the fluid produced by the mammary glands of a mammal?

Because as a marketer, I was disappointed that Silk wasted the most interactive, engaging element on their packaging with bad jokes and incompetent cross sell. As a customer, I’m offended because Silk enticed me with the tasty promise of ego gratification based on my ingestion of their product attributes and then made me feel stupid for swallowing it. (Plus, I know if I’d just studied the right material prior to the exam, my Soy-Q would be considerably higher than it is now. Oh, the shame, the shame!)

But really, aren’t I making too much of this? I thought I might be, which was why I held off writing this particular post. Until I read a post by Seth Godin the other day about political spin, media outlets and marketers. Speaking of politicians lying, he says, “The spinners lie constantly. They lie with a straight face. They lie sentence after sentence, relentlessly…we don’t really know what to do in the face of non-stop lying. Is this person an alien? Do they think we’re stupid? How are we supposed to respond to the onslaught of disrespect?”

“Do they think we’re stupid?” And then it hit me. I felt personally disrespected by the Silk Soy Milk box.

Sure, as a marketer I care that Silk missed an opportunity to interactively engage their customers. And that if they’d actually asked some interesting and even challenging questions, customers might actually have been “Not done learning?” and “visited us online to learn more!”, thereby increasing site visits, deepening relationship and creating more and better developed opportunities for cross sell and product trial.

But why I’m really offended, what I really care about, is that they have so little respect for me, as a customer, that they think they can treat me like an idiot, and I’ll lap it up. It’s the same way I feel when Ellen Degeneres, whom I adore, tries to tell me that she doesn’t have any “people” who can get her into a Beyonce concert in that stupid American Express commercial. (Full Disclosure:  I have multiple Amex Cards, I love the company, and I wish Ellen and Portia all the best in their marriage.)

These are not companies who are ignorant of customer relationships. Far from it — both were built because they understood what their customers wanted and gave them something other companies did not. And they usually engage with their customers and prospects in an intelligent way. (After all, it’s not like we’re not talking about Budweiser, here.)

So can someone please explain to me why even good marketers sometimes create advertising that assumes their customers are too stupid to tell when they’re being treated like morons?

Directed Advertising Relationship Marketing

Direct Marketing yes, Direct to Consumer (DTC) no!

Direct To Consumer (DTC) prescription drug ads don’t work according to an article this morning in the Washington Post. The Post reported on a five year study of Direct to Consumer advertising by prescription drug companies which concluded that those ads had little impact on sales. The study was pretty clever — it looked at Canadians who were exposed to US ads in English, and used French-speakers in Quebec as the control group. DTC advertising is illegal in Canada (According to the Post, only the US and New Zealand allow it), but English speaking Canadians are exposed to the ads through US media. They looked at 3 prescription drugs:  Enbrel, for rheumatoid arthritis, Nasonex for nasal allergies, and Zelnorm, for irritable bowel syndrome. In the first two there was no difference in patterns. In the third, after an initial spike, usage leveled off between the two groups. The Post article quotes a Harvard Med School professor and principal investigator in the study, Steven Soumerai:  ‘Advertising prescription drugs is “not line popcorn, cereal and hair sprays.”‘

I agree with Professor Soumerai, and this study makes sense to me. The study tests the impact of Direct To Consumer TV and print advertising, the ultimate shotgun approach to interruptive advertising. Shout your message out to the widest possible audience (in this case, so loudly they hear you all the way in Canada!). Then hope that some percentage of them are your targets.

Even worse, no matter how loud you do shout, people eventually start tuning you out. This article about consumer recall of prescription drug ads in AdWeek says that over the last year, Nielsen IAG has determined that those ads are getting less memorable. The article places the blame on slashed budgets, stale creative and other woes, and says that those that remain wouldn’t have made the top 10 based on last year’s recall scores.

My agency doesn’t do any pharmaceutical advertising, but in 2006 we did do a direct mail customer acquisition campaign for a legitimate nutritional supplement (for joint pain) that happened to target a similar group to one of the drugs. We had an overall response/conversion rate of 0.75% and our best cells had response/conversion rates as high as 1.81%. (For response rate here, we mean paid product trial, but since it represents an actual order, I’m equating it to a conversion rate as well. For you internet-only types, direct mail response is different than a click thru, since by definition it actually means an order!) We had a first refill rate of 16.82%, meaning 16.82% of those initial customers ordered a second time. Of those, 68.1% became long term customers, ordering over and over. In other words, our direct mail worked to drive increased sales where big pharma’s DTC seemingly did not.

Why? Because we applied solid direct marketing principals to our client’s product. We found the right groups of people, people who through a variety of means told us they were interested in what we had to offer. We tested the lists, the offers and the messages to find the right mix, and then maximized our learning to achieve solid results. This is why direct marketing often succeeds where other forms of advertising fail, and works especially well for companies with smaller budgets that have to work harder.

Since 1997, when the FDA began allowing DTC advertising, the pharmaceutical companies have thrown a ton of money at consumers — $5 Billion in 2006 alone, again according to the Post. Now, to be fair, some of it has also gone to direct marketing in one form or another. Pharma has been a pioneer in building online communities, providing information and educational resources online, all in an effort to get consumers to request their drugs from their doctors. But as we all know from watching TV, much of it has gone into the airwaves. (I can hear that darn Antonio Banderas sounding Nasonex bee buzzing around as I write this. Oh wait, according to Wikipedia, it is Antonio Banderas!)

So in the face of dwindling budgets, shrinking attention and studies like these, can someone please explain to me why big pharma continues to throw billions of dollars at consumers by trying to interrupt them when it could spend far less just connecting with them?

Directed Advertising Integrated Marketing

Why are consumers like Western Lowland Gorillas?

CNN had a story today about the discovery of a colony of 125,000 Western Lowland Gorillas, well over twice the previously estimated worldwide population of 50,000. Naturalists had searched in vain for the vanishing primate, growing increasingly pessimistic, until researchers from the WIldlife Conservation Society stumbled upon a huge population in a swamp forest in the Republic of Congo.

I couldn’t help but compare this to marketers who have been lamenting recently that its harder to find consumers than ever before. First, there was the mystery of the missing 18-34 males, who traded in their TV for video games and the internet.

Now it’s white, educated, affluent women aged 25-44. They’re going online to watch episodes of broadcast TV, according to a recent study by IMMI reported on

Newspapers are losing readers, while blogs like the are getting more readers than The NY Times. (The Huffington Post claims 5.7 million readers, while the Times claims a total circ of 1,476,400 for their Sunday edition, their biggest day, including their electronic edition.)

But it’s not that consumers are going extinct. Or even that they’re getting harder to find. It’s just that they’re not in the places marketers are used to looking for them. Kind of like the gorillas.

In the same way I’m heartened by the article about the gorillas, I’m thrilled by the recent Communications Industry Forecast written about in USA Today. For the first time ever, by 2012 direct marketing spending via Internet Service Providers, video games and cable and TV providers is predicted to surpass traditional media. And direct marketing is much broader than it used to be, encompassing everything from behaviorally targeted interactive advertising to opt-in SMS campaigns to paid search to emails to digitally customized, personalized mailers to PURLs.

More and more marketers are waking up to the fact that “mainstream advertising” is failing to find the gorillas in the mist, and direct marketing is a more successful strategy for reaching them… even if it means slogging through a data-drenched swamp to get there.

So can someone please explain to me why so many marketers are still looking for consumers where they used to be, instead of finding them where they are?