Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

To a direct marketer, testing is vital. But it’s important to know exactly what you’re testing. If you’re not careful, what you think your test is telling you may not be what it’s saying at all.

It’s not just in direct marketing and business that testing matters, as you’ll see in a minute.

Evan Jones, my good friend and ex-Partner-in-Crime at our old game company, QED Games, Inc., is beginning to make a name for himself in an entirely new field, Climate Change. He’s about to be the “et al” in two scientific papers and was a key researcher in a current report to Congress.

Evan is part of a group led by meteorologist Anthony Watts (who writes a very popular blog, Watts Up With That, aTechnorati Top 5K blog with a ranking of 2083!) that is focused on a major aspect of Global Warming:  not whether it’s happening, but whether we know whether it is or not.

Evan and his colleagues have been examining the over 1200 U.S Historical Climate Network (USHCN) surface stations in the US that measure temperature. And what they’ve found is surprising. Nearly 89% of these stations are located in situations that render their data suspect or flawed according to the government’s own standards. Most of these stations were once fine, but encroaching urbanization has frequently turned an isolated station into one surrounded by heat sources. Add to this the fact that temperatures are recorded by citizen volunteers and are roughly 30% incomplete.

There’s more, of course. You can read about it here in this article from WBZ TV in Boston.  Better yet, WBZ did an interview with Evan while he was up in Boston assessing some of the surface stations there. You can watch the report here. And be sure to check out Anthony’s blog for even more examples of questionable data.

In the end it all adds up to one thing: the data doesn’t add up. It is, for the most part, not telling us what we think it’s telling us. For instance, when a station formerly situated in the middle of a field registers a temperature increase over the last decade but that station is now situated in a blacktop parking lot with an air conditioning exhaust unit nearby, is the planet getting warmer, or just the station’s readings?

Whether you’re building an online research survey, setting up a 16-cell direct mail testing matrix, optimizing a paid search campaign or collecting temperature data to prove or disprove global warming, you need to check your inputs, check your confidence in the amount and clarity of the data, and structure the test to actually answer the questions you’re asking.

It’s critical that your testing framework not be flawed or all of your results could be useless. It’s equally important that you analyze the testing results accurately. And if you go ahead and act on bad information, whether it’s a new product launch or an attempt to save the planet, you could be doomed to failure before you start.

And speaking of global warming and saving the planet, can someone please explain to me how anyone can be so certain of the truth when the tests themselves are flawed?

On a recent post I commented about CNN’s updated news crawl being a shill for their Twitter and other online efforts. Turns out, I was more right than I knew. Not only were they in the midst of a heated competition with their worthy opponent Ashton Kutcher to see who could reach a million followers first, but they were simultaneously reeling from the news that they were now, for the first time in their existence, ranked THIRD in viewership behind Fox and MSNBC!

Ashton beat them to the mil, but as Rick Sanchez so magnanimously said, “If you counted everything we do on Twitter we really beat him, but it’s all good.” or something empowering like that.

Normally I’d ignore his good sportsmanship except that I also read an article in Variety that said nearly the same thing. CNN spun their 3rd place finish in prime time into an ad for their multi-channel capability:

“Primetime is most meaningful to entertainment networks,” says CNN U.S. prexy Jonathan Klein, noting that his channel sells its commercial time in a more bundled, multiplatform way that differs from most cable networks, which deal more in the typical currency of primetime ratings points.

And that’s why, no doubt, during the middle of the day the other Friday, they actually showed Ed Henry interviewing somebody on CNN-Radio on CNN cable TV. There he was, boom mike dangling in front of his face, CNN Radio sign strategically positioned, except he was on the TV.

Multi-Channel is as multi-channel does. So CNN aims for the Twitter stratosphere,  creates partnerships with Facebook, takes on Talk Radio (“We’ll fight them on the fields, we’ll fight them on the shores, we’ll fight them in the air!”).

Or, to quote a more controversial character than old Mr. Churchill, “Get ther the fustest with the mustest.” (Be the first to guess who said that one and I’ll send you a Claxton Fruit Cake!)

We are watching CNN, the people who transformed television news by replacing the tyrannical scheduled reporting cycle (anybody remember the 6:00 News?) with getting their cameras wherever news was happening as it was happening (and using local network reporters when they didn’t have one of their own in place) transform news again. This time, they’re replacing the tyranny of platform exclusivity with the freedom of device. Klein continues:

“We sell against all of our platforms — TV, online, international — and it’s hard to say there’s one particular daypart or hour of the day that matters more,” says Klein… Our competition doesn’t have the resources to cover the news the way we do. They’ve actually ceded news coverage to us.”

Convergence doesn’t just happen. CNN is using their core platforms to advertise and drive their customers to their other platforms including Time Magazine. It’s a massive multi-channel marketing effort, it’s intrusive, and apparently, it’s working:  Follow us on Twitter — over a million Twitterers can’t be wrong!.

Recognizing, as CNN’s John King said, that they are “in the word business”, CNN is stuffing those words wherever they can … and monetizing their words along the way. Newspapers should take note:  you’re all in the “word biz” — not the dead tree biz or the radio wave business or the cathode ray business or the pixel business.

Of the last twenty or so articles I read from the NY Times, none of them were on newspaper, and I found them via Digg, Google News, and in emails from friends. The last radio program I listened to was on my computer. The last time I got a story from CNN I read it on my phone.

CNN won the first digital news revolution. They overthrew the powers that be and changed everything. Now that they’re the underdogs again, it looks like they’re sticking it to the man one more time — only this time, the man is Rupert Murdoch.

So, with CNN working hard to become the multi-channel newsroom of the next great era in journalism, with all their vaunted commitment to new media and the instant-dissemniation nature of Twitter, can someone please explain to me why in the last 24 hours, CNNBRK, their twitter account with 1,339,599 followers, had only two breaking news stories?

I recently shattered my right arm at the shoulder and spent two painful weeks on the couch. I mostly watched cable news, as the opiate cocktail I was on for pain precluded reading or anything else requiring actual concentration.

And while I’m normally a fan of the bloodsport that is cable news, merrily flipping between CNN and Fox with the occasional vacation to BBC, sort of like an endless intravenous drip of watered down news, CNN recently made an extremely annoying change that is so frustrating I’m even considering replacing them in the rotation with MSNBC. (Shudder!)

I’m talking about the “crawl” or “ticker” at the bottom of the screen.

I’ve always made fun of the crawl, riddled as it was with intriguing news tidbits that fly across the screen, tantalizingly brief and often never seen again — and sometimes not even retrievable online!  Short attention span theater, indeed.

As bad as it was, CNN recently replaced their crawl with something worse: a static parade of changing news items described in a maximum of 60 characters each, spaces included.

This leads to infuriatingly incomplete news bombs such as:

“Airline grounds 60 jets for safety inspections”

“Only 25 votes separate candidates in deadlocked election.”

“Investment firm charged in Madoff case.”

Which airline? What election? Which firm? C’mon, guys, you’re supposed to be delivering news, not vague murmurings worthy of Nostradamus!

Why would they do this? Branding? Innovation? To stand out from the competition? Is there some business purpose that I’m missing?

Perhaps the key to this change lies in the little “CNN.COM>>” that precedes each news bomb? Maybe it’s a cross-sell, and they’re trying to tease me into finding out more online. (I’d love to know how they would even track that.) This may be the likely purpose, since other CNN news shows sometimes use the space for fan tweets (Rick Sanchez) and newscaster tweets and teases (Anderson Cooper’s promise more at AC360.COM).

But what they’re actually doing is driving me into the clutches of the more informative news crawls on Fox and BBC. Because after all, if you’re in it for the long haul, it’s all about the crawl.

So can someone please explain to me what CNN hopes to accomplish with this new format, and whether it’s succeeding at anything other than increasing FOX’s ratings?

The other morning on my way to work I was listening to CBS-AM, and Joe Connolly of the Wall Street Journal told the story of someone who had gotten a collections letter from their bank that sounded more like it had come from a repo man. (Or maybe it was the Sopranos… sorry if I’m misquoting, Joe.)

I’ve been seeing a lot of collections letters recently, and not because I’m up to my eyeballs in debt.

It turns out my agency, Tanen Directed Advertising, is pretty good at writing collections letters. And not the kind Joe was talking about.

For the most part, collections letters tend to fit into a few basic molds.

There’s the impersonal, computer-generated type that remove all humanity from the equation… and from the recipient. (You’d be surprised how many of them aren’t written by computers.)

There’s the escalating, threatening letter that’s meant to scare the recipient into compliance but frequently just pummels them into paralyzed inaction.

And there’s the sickeningly sweet, fake “we know what it’s like and we want to help” letters that allow the sender to hide behind feigned consideration without presenting any real options and just serve to drive the recipient further away.

We don’t write those kind of letters. You see, we look at collections letters as CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools.

After all, the recipients are your customers. They bought a car from you. They took out a mortgage with you — or with a bank thrice removed, but they’re your customers now. They get their electricity from your utility. They’re your patients and you’re their doctor.

Every time you communicate with your customer, you have the chance to deepen or damage your relationship with them. Which outcome would you prefer?

Sure, you can beat them into the ground to get your money, and you’ll get it. Maybe all of it, maybe just some of it. Maybe you’ll be the last straw that breaks them, but you’ll get your money.  And unless you’re a monopoly, it’s probably the last money you’ll ever get from them.

What if it turned out that by simply communicating with your customers, by treating them like valuable human beings who have feelings and brains and are integral components of your company, and by going the extra mile to give them some options, you can actually get more of the money they owe you?

We’ve written collections letters that have gotten 400% more of our client’s customers to call in to discuss repayments than did their previous best performing letters (known as controls in direct marketing). We’ve increased the amounts collected by our clients time and time again.

If you know anything about collections, you know that you usually have to hunt down your customers to talk to them. Our letters get your customers to pick up the phone and call you. Willingly. Because we explain their options to them, we empower them to take control of what felt like an out of control situation.

If you keep a customer, their lifetime value to you continues to increase, rather than bottoming out. If you show faith in your customer, and work with them to come up with a solution, they tend to respond with something every business desires:  loyalty.

Last night our President reminded us that we’re not a nation of quitters. That given a chance, Americans will do what it takes to rise from the depths of despair and work their way back to the top.

I’ve heard our current economic situation described in part as a crisis of faith, and that not until we all have faith in the future and start spending and lending again will we come out of it.

I’d like to add that as businesses, if we have faith in our customers and help them through these tough times, the rewards can be far greater than can be gotten through threats and intimidation.

I’m not arguing for charity — I’m making a case for a more successful business strategy. I’ve seen it work for our clients.

So can someone please explain to me why there are so many short-sighted businesses out there who would rather turn their customers into quitters today than do what it takes to earn their loyalty for years to come?

In honor of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday yesterday, I’d like to talk about survival of the fittest and the evolution of the media landscape.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called The Magazine as Metaphor. I talked about the three segments of magazines that added the most new titles in 2008, with Regional magazines in second place with  24 new titles.

Well, MediaFinder.com (as reported here on Marketing Charts.com), the place where I got my data, just reported that regional magazines also lost the most titles last year, losing 33 titles. Overall, 525 titles folded in 2008.

The Theory of Evolution says that the species best adapted to its environment is more likely to survive than those that are less well-adapted. In nature, this happens through natural selection and genetic mutation.

In marketing, it does too. You see, environment is a combination of factors, and sometimes the most obvious ones are not the most important ones, evolutionarily speaking.

Let’s look at Domino, the most recent home furnishings magazine to get thrown out with the trash. And thrown out it was, by Conde Nast.

You see, Domino seemed to be doing everything right. It had growing paid readership, newsstand sales were increasing, it had an integrated online presence, a thriving fan base that built blogs, social networks and even real-world social groups around it.

Domino appealed to the vast majority of Americans who shop in Target and want to live with style without selling our souls to afford it.  (For the whole story, see this great NY Times piece by Penelope Green called “A girl world closes, and fans mourn” here.)

One would think that Domino was perfectly suited to survive and thrive in the changing media environment.

But alas, it wasn’t Domino that was unfit to survive. It was its prehistoric business model that depended on ad pages to survive. And ad pages were down 26%. More importantly, it pulled in only half the advertising dollars that Architectural Digest gets.

For those of you who don’t know, now that House & Garden and Domino are gone, Architectural Digest is Conde Nast’s only remaining shelter book. If you didn’t know that, it’s forgivable. AD has a median readership age of 50, and if you can afford to emulate the lifestyles in that publication, you’re a bit above me and my friends on the socio-economic scale.

Just a few months ago, before the announcement to close Domino, Conde Nast was telling the world how successful the publication was. It was, to all appearances, healthy, on top of the world, the masters of their environment. Just like the dinosaurs may have seemed just before they all died.

It seems wrong that an otherwise healthy and thriving publication was brought down by dropping ad sales, especially in this era when ad dollars are plunging across the board.

But that’s the point. Evolution is heartless. Survival of the fittest is frequently determined after the fact. The advertising supported publishing model is dying, and while some dinosaurs may last longer than others, they are all doomed, in the end.

Maybe it’s size that is the defining factor. In this era where we’re discovering that “too big too fail” applies to more than just dinosaurs, banks, airlines and auto manufacturers, is small the new key to success?

Or are blogs the tiny, furry upstart mammals that will become the next dominant species in the media environment? Aren’t the best of them also dependent on advertising dollars to survive? Is media always destined to be chasing ad dollars, and it’s not the media that is at the top of the food chain, it’s the almighty ad dollar?

Even ad dollars are subservient to a greater force: the consumer. Ad dollars are spent chasing one thing: consumers. And consumers are finally beginning to realize how much power they really have.

They’ve saved television shows that were slated to be canceled. They’ve killed movies and products that were supposed to be the next big thing. They’ve put Hulu on the map. They’ve been the building force behind Google and Facebook and Twitter.

And they’re why even though Domino is gone, it’s spirit will live on online in blogs like Apartment Therapy.com, the 3,196th most popular site on the web with over 900,000 monthly unique visitors according to Quantcast. Which, by the way, is higher than Domino’s paid circ of 850,000.

But still, it’s sad that Domino is gone. It is possible that it could have been saved if Conde Nast hadn’t thrown the baby (Domino) out with the bath water (ad sales).Magazines and newspapers are going extinct all across the land even when they have loyal fans who want to devour their content.

So can someone please explain to me how many more otherwise healthy content providers must die before prehistoric publishers realize that it’s the ad sales based model that’s killing them and that it’s the publishers, not the magazines, that must evolve or die?

The other day, we got an interesting pre-recorded message on our phone. It was from Clif Bar, notifying us of their voluntary recall of certain Luna Bars that potentially have peanut butter in them that came from the same processor responsible for the current salmonella outbreak.

The message said they called us because we were Costco members, and that we’d bought the affected products. A friend of ours got a similar call, also because his family are Costco members, too.

Here’s what I find most interesting. Just the week before, I’d bought a case of Clif Bars that fell into the recalled batch… from BJ’s.

Did I get a call from BJ’s? No.

Did I get a call from any other manufacturer about their possibly contaminated products? No.

Recalls are touchy things. They can make or break a company. Marketing professors use the 1982 Tylenol recall as a case study of how to manage a crisis and turn a potential customer service nightmare into a brand building triumph. It cost them over $100 million dollars to recall 31 million bottles of Tylenol, but in the long run it saved the brand, and possibly the company, Johnson & Johnson, for whom it represented 17% of net income.  The International Herald Tribune has a good article about it here.

I’ve had other things recalled — most recently, my daughter’s toys being recalled for lead contamination comes to mind. But I never received a call from the company — I had to find out about it myself online after hearing the news stories.

What Costco did is good customer service. And Costco and Clif Bar have raised the bar (no pun intended.)

In the rivalry between Costco and BJ’s to win my business, who do you think just gained the lead? Given similarities in pricing and selection, what else is there to help set these two big box wholesalers apart except service?

I can’t imagine there’s much of a difference in the way they track customer data. They both swipe my membership card before they ring up my orders. BJ’s must have known that I bought the contaminated bars.

So can someone please explain to me, not why Costco called, but why BJ’s didn’t?

PS. Shameless promotion follows…

I just finished another dark and twisted collaboration with my friend, the extremely talented illustrator, Viktor Koen. As some of you may know, we worked together on Lexicon: Words and Images of Strange (AtticChild Press, 1996).

Our new collaboration is Toyphabet. You can read more about it here. But for those of you going to New York Comicon next week, I wanted to let you know that TOYPHABET is a limited edition book made specially for the 2OO9 New York Comic Con and is carried exclusively by Baby Tattoo Books at booth#1622.

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…”

Like many other marketers, I think candidate Obama’s marketing was exemplary. Which is why I was surprised at President-Elect Obama’s choice of bible for his swearing in.

I get the significance of Obama using the Lincoln Bible. I see the connection between the man who freed the slaves and the first black president. I understand that President Obama is inspired by Lincoln, that he’s a big fan, that he’s been reading up on Lincoln and even that his cabinet and administration is, like Lincoln’s, a team of rivals.

I just think there were better choices out there.

Sure, he got plenty of press coverage about his choice. But wouldn’t he have gotten just as much press if he’d used a bible owned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Wouldn’t it also have been significant and symbolic?

But more importantly, now there will be no Obama Bible.

The Lincoln bible will always be the Lincoln Bible, no matter who uses it.  But if Obama had used a bible of Dr. King’s, there would forever be an Obama Bible.

Doesn’t the first black president of the United States deserve a bible of his own?

For the record, most presidents do not use other president’s bibles. Eisenhower used Washington’s, as did the first Bush. The second Bush wanted to, but inclement weather (or the hand of God?) intervened. Here’s an interesting list of presidential bibles compiled by the Architect of the Capital, who is “responsible to the Congress for preserving, maintaining and enhancing our national treasures.”

In marketing and advertising, we call what President Obama did “borrowed interest.” Instead of capitalizing on his own unique brand attributes, Obama cashed in on Lincoln’s.

Wouldn’t using Dr. King’s bible also be borrowed interest? Sure, for today.

But for tomorrow, for all the tomorrows to come, that bible would be the Obama Bible. When some future president-elect wanted to use that bible, they would refer to it as the Obama bible, used to swear in the first black president, which was originally owned by Dr. Martin Luther King, the greatest civil rights leader in American history.

That’s good branding…and good marketing.

Which is why I’m so perplexed. Everything about this campaign’s marketing has been so intentional, so purposeful, so savvy, that there must be a reason I’m missing.

So can someone (preferably named Barak) please explain to me why President Obama chose to borrow interest from someone else’s brand as opposed to firmly establishing his own?

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 CNNMoney.com. 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?

Some people look out across the magazine landscape and only see doom and gloom.

They point to the recent demise of popular titles (i.e., Radar, Jane, Premiere, PC Magazine, CosmoGirl, ElleAccessories, CottageLiving and 02138 are all going dark or moving to online only versions) and the rise of the internet.

They look at a 39% decline in news magazines (from 75 to 46) over the past 5 years and a 32% decline in management magazines (from 127 to 86) during the same period.

They look at the shrinking girth of some publications that used to measure half an inch and now can slip under a door. They see shrinking ad revenues and impending bankruptcy — advertising pages were down 17% this December compared to last December, according to this article in the NY Times.

Others look at this same bleak landscape and see reasons for hope. In 2008 these brave souls launched 335 new magazine titles.

What did they see that the others missed? Perhaps it was… opportunity.

According to a survey by MediaFinder.com reported in Marketing Charts, the top three growth categories were Health (31 new titles), Regional (24 new titles) and Food (17 new titles).

The top three categories each reflect increasing trends:

  • the wave of baby boomers growing older and more concerned about their health;
  • the democratization of gourmet food and the rising popularity of cooking as a spectator and participatory sport (one of the new titles was Food Network Magazine);
  • the confluence of growing local advertising spending and the increasing interest in local and regional content and activities as seen in shorter travel, staycations, urban rejuvenation, small town resurgence and other localization trends.

In fact, when it comes to regional publications, according to The National Directory of Magazines, there are 1,126 regional publications, more than any other category. (Medicine, a close second, has 1,119).

I think these magazines have an opportunity to succeed:  if they capitalize on trends, if they stay lean and nimble, and if they build business models that are more appropriate for today’s media and ad spending realities. These magazines can avoid the creeping death that is slowly killing their older, more established, and larger (or even bloated) competition.

I keep thinking about JetBlue. At a time when older, larger, well-established airlines were being crushed under the weight of their outdated business models, JetBlue saw an opportunity, threw away the old play book, and succeeded while others limped along towards oblivion.

This is about more than just magazines. It’s about succeeding in perilous times when others fail.

Is it vision? Is it drive? Is it force of personality? Is it desperation blended with desire?

Can someone please explain to me why some companies give up,  fold up their tents and consign themselves to the dung heap of history while others forge ahead and make history?