Posts Tagged ‘Business’

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?

Have you seen the new commercials that look and feel like cable news programming?

I’ve seen at least three different variations for three different advertisers. The one I see the most is the most innocuous:  it’s for the “Mucho Money” show, a Jim Cramer “Mad Money” rip-off selling Optimum Online and related services. I say innocuous because nobody with half a brain could mistake it for a real news show. Not with the stock ticker at the bottom of the ad tracking the price of Mango Chutney and Waffle Irons.

But then there’s the “Breaking News from the TMU FHA Hotline” commercial that I think  sets dangerous precedents and needs to be taken off the air.

At the start of the commercial, the screen shouts “TMU” in huge type, then “Breaking News” in slightly smaller type. This is on for a a while, and then, in tiny print at the bottom of the screen for all of maybe 2 seconds, it says “The following is a Paid Advertisement brought to you by Topdot Mortgage.”

The rest of the commercial plays out just like a breaking news story on a cable news station. The ticker at the bottom of the screen says “Breaking News – Federal Government raises FHA Loan Limits…” and continues with newsspeak about loan rates, limits, etc.

The commercial ends with the “newscaster” saying “We’ll have more on this story and other developments on the next edition of the TopDot Mortgage Update.” This is followed by a screen that features TMU and a phone number and half a screen of incredibly fine print that’s up for all of maybe 5 seconds.

This isn’t the worst of these I’ve seen. The worst was one I saw on CNN one day while I was working out on the exercise bike in my gym. It started with the words “Special Report” and looked in every way like a cable news show and had absolutely no mention of an advertisement whatsoever. Unlike the comedic “Mucho Money” it was a serious attempt to come across as real news.

Having forgotten to stuff a fountain pen in my shorts, I couldn’t write down the name,  and I’ve been unable to find it since. (I think it said Investor Link Special Report, but I’m just not sure. If you’ve seen it, please let me know.)

I don’t do TV, so I don’t know whether these DRTV (Direct Response TV) ads are actionable or not. But I do create direct marketing print advertisements, so I have a standard to compare them to.

When we create print ads that take on an editorial look and feel, we add a slug to the ad that says “Advertisement” or “Advertorial” or “Paid Advertisement.” Even if we didn’t want to, the publications demand it or they won’t accept our ads. Some publications won’t accept an ad like that even if it does say advertisement clearly, just to avoid any potential confusion on the part of their readers.

But where was CNN when the “Special Report” ad ran? Don’t they bear some responsibility for airing a misleading ad that attempted to fool their viewers into thinking it was a CNN Special Report? Did USA think that the cursory notifications on the TMU “Breaking News” ad was enough to avoid confusion or worse in the minds of their viewers?

And more importantly, what was going on in the minds of the ad agencies that created these ads? Are they proud of their work? Did they beg their clients to clearly identify that these were ads, but failed to convince them?

Or did they tell their client, “Don’t worry, we’ll run it until we get caught, if we even get caught, then pay the minor fine and laugh all the way to the bank?”

We’re pretty safe in assuming that their clients don’t have a problem with taking advantage of gullible or vulnerable consumers. The greed and lack of moral responsibility exhibited by mortgage lenders and financial institutions is a big part of the reason the entire world economy is tanking right now. As one of the victims of the mortgage meltdown said on CNBC’s “House of Cards” said, “I may be stupid, but they’re guilty.”

But I really do want to know what the creatives were thinking. Can someone from the agency that created these ads please explain to me what you were hoping to achieve by running these misleading ads, and more importantly, how you sleep at night?

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.

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?

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?

There’s a spot in New York City, on 5th Avenue between 51st and 50th Streets. If you go there late at night, or early on New Year’s Day, you can actually stand in the deserted center of one of the busiest avenues in the city.  The spot itself isn’t remarkable — it’s what’s around you. To your left is St. Patrick’s Cathedral and to your right is the statue of Atlas in front of Rockefeller Center.

In other words, you are literally standing between one of the world’s greatest expressions of faith and one of mankind’s most enduring symbols of science, technology and rationality.

Whenever I’ve stood in this spot, the juxtaposition of life’s two great themes has added valuable clarity into the confusion of my choices and challenges.

As we begin a new year with its delineation, both artificial and realistic, between what came before and what comes next, I think it is important to keep these two themes in their proper place.

The challenges of business, marketing and our personal lives and finances which this new year will bring will seem unexpected and insurmountable to some, expected and easily addressed by others.

When you look at life as a continual set of challenges and opportunities, when you have a method for addressing problems rationally and intelligently, applying the right tools or the right processes and then testing the outcome before moving ahead, this year’s challenges are no more daunting than last year’s.

When you have faith in your own abilities and in your own ethical core, you have the strength to face any new challenges and opportunities because you have the sure knowledge that you are up to the task, and that even if you fail at times, you will not give up and eventually will find the answer or solution.

It is only when we confuse faith and rationality, and attempt to use faith as a tool to reach our goal, that we are doomed to failure. Faith is a feeling, not a tool.

I had a client who attended a Small Business luncheon and was told by an expert consultant that she needed a blog and that it would help her business. She believed the speaker, and came to my agency and said, “I need a blog.”

We discussed why she wanted a blog. We rationally explored who would be interested in reading it, and came to the conclusion that the way in which her customers find her business and what they want out of it would not be enhanced by a blog. We discussed the amount of time and effort it takes to maintain a blog, and compared it to other expenditures of effort which could have a direct impact on new customer acquisition and repeat business.

When we were done, her belief that she needed a blog and her faith in the speaker/consultant was replaced with a rational assessment of blogs and their ability to deliver ROI for her business at this time.

The conversation reminded me of the now classic, cliche conversation from the mid-90’s:

“I need a website.”
“Why?”
“Everybody else has one.”
“What do you want the site to do for your business?”
“I don’t know. I just know that I need one.”

We all know how well that turned out.

Now is the time to have faith in our ability to use our rationality to navigate the challenges ahead and come out of them stronger, smarter, and more able to succeed at the hard tasks at hand for our nation, our businesses and our selves.

It is not the time to reignite the war between faith and rationality that has divided and handicapped us for centuries.

So can someone please explain to me why something that’s so easy to see on 5th Avenue is so much harder to see in our own lives?

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.

SEXY

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?

SURPRISING

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?

SHOCKING

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?