November 30, 2010

A few thoughts on 'Viral Marketing'

17-year old Joshua Beattie from Brisbane, Australia, makes a 7-minute shortfilm on a zero dollar budget. The actors: his friends. The cameraman: too. Equipment: a video camera and a laptop. He puts the film on Youtube, and generates almost a million views in one week. No marketing dollar spent. No 'Below-the-line' campaign. No PR agency paying bloggers to 'spread the word'. None of that nonsense. Just a really good story. Well told. Perfectly executed. His story is everywhere these days.

When a journalist asks him if he intended to spread the word through social networks, he shakes his head. No, he simply sent a link to a few friends who missed the screening at the local high-school. People simply forwarded it to friends, who forwarded it to friends, who forwarded it to friends.

In the old days, this was called 'Word of Mouth', the passing of information from one person to another. Somehow this concept got twisted, abstracted, and then misunderstood by ignorant marketing managers and advertising specialists, who called it 'Viral Marketing'.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this concept. While 'Word of Mouth' is an outcome, 'Viral Marketing' is most often misunderstood as a marketing strategy. Who doesn't understand the difference is almost doomed to fail when pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into a 'viral campaign'. Very rarely does this approach succeed, because you simply cannot force your friends to forward a link. If they think it's crap, they simply delete it. If the content is really outstanding - as in the above video - we forward it to five, ten or even twenty friends. After all, what we forward, reflects back on us. And who wants to build a reputation for sending lame links around?

What most marketing managers don't understand is that 'Viral' is an outcome, not a strategy. A few campaigns have succeeded, either because they were first, and no one else had done it before. Remember 'The Blair Witch Project'? That was a viral success story. Remember the roller-skating babies for Evian? A viral hit. Remember 'Fantastic Freddy' for Radisson Hotels? Chances are, you've never heard of him. He was planned to be part of a viral campaign. Look him up on YouTube and judge for yourself.

Fact is, these days you've pretty much failed if your viral video does not generate at least a 100,000 views in a week. Looking at the Top 10 hits of viral marketing per week, you need to even crack the 500,000 view mark to be mentioned anywhere.

So think twice before doing something 'viral'. Do you have a good story? Do you have a great execution? Would you yourself send this link to ten of your best friends, and ten of your top business contacts?

Related links:
The Top 10 Viral Video Ads of the Week
10 Memorable Viral Videos of 2010

November 29, 2010

A joke: The Nissan Juke Launch Spot

It must be really hard being a young creative in an ad agency, when you're working on a car account. On the one hand you are trying to establish yourself as the next hot shot and build your portfolio, on the other hand there are these annoying people called clients, who have never understood your genius and who demand the same lame car driving around somewhere somehow over and over.

Just try to remember a really great car commercial you've seen in the last ten, five, three years. Not many, right? Because let's be serious here. Most work is interchangeable, and too often just quite boring. A car driving in the mountains, a car driving along the ocean, or a car driving in the city. They all do the same. Take you from A to B.

The Nissan Juke however is different. And it shows. It's an ugly car to begin with, which means we have to make the ad campaign surrounding it somehow cool, and fun, and witty. I am pretty sure the folks at Nissan have never really understood what the ad agency, in this case TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, has sold them on here. Because it is just stupid. The whole commercial is nothing but a joke. An expensive one, when you think that :30 sec like this pile up production cost of half a million dollars easily. Add all your media dollars on top, and you're throwing a lot of money out of the window.

Why is this so bad? Well, this kind of car and its commercial are clearly targeted at young, urban, post-college-graduate kids, like the guy in the commercial - Kowalczyk. There is an entire campaign built around him. So far, so good. But "the intern forgot the donuts for the status meeting"? Seriously? That's "the mission" for Kowalczyk? Who of these young, urban, cool kids wants to be reminded of the misery of corporate life in a cubicle, with boring status meetings in plain ugly conference rooms next to awful office environments like the one shown in this spot?

And Kowalczyk breaking the window of a donut store to get a few, stupid donuts? Is everyone so scared of the boss being p... ed off that the intern forgot the donuts? Or is life in this fictitious office so dull that the donuts are the only highlight of the day? Or perhaps the target group isn't that cool, young kid, but the grey suits in their fifties? Can't be. The crazy stunt driving wouldn't appeal to them. These people buy Buick or Volvo while aspiring to a BMW or a Mercedes. I'm really lost here. If anyone in the industry has sales numbers of this vehicle, please share with me. I would be surprised if this vehicle sells at all.

Advice to Nissan: don't let a kid in his/her mid-twenties go crazy with an idea, unless your entire brand premise is build on that idea (think Axe). Entire Nissan that is. Not just one design accident like the Juke.

And TBWA? Come on. You can do better than this.

November 24, 2010

Heineken's brilliant activation stunt in Italy

This is clearly one of my favorite activation stunts this year. The recipe: take a major beer brand, men's obsession with football (read: soccer in the U.S.), a European Champions league match between Real Madrid and AC Milan, and wrap it all around a simple, yet brilliant idea. Then go and execute it in all the right channels. Why is this so amazing? Because football is a global religion for many men, and this concept could have very well been executed in Spain, England, Germany, France, Argentina, Brazil... you name it.

It was, however, only executed in Italy. Mind-blowing, how a local event has caught the attention of a whole country, then spread across the globe. There is no marketing budget in the world that can buy the kind of true joy every football fan got out of this. This is a story that will live forever.

No further comments necessary. Just sit back, watch, and enjoy.

November 23, 2010

Scent & the city

New York push-cart vendor on Times Square.

Same vendor. Meat on fire.

Some marketers aim to target all of our senses, when trying to seduce us. Fact is the right design of sound and scent can make us spend more time and dollars in a store, and taking in that sweet smell of warm muffins and creamy cupcakes from the bakery on your way to work in the morning not only evokes childhood memories of grandma's homemade goodies, it most likely makes us stop midstride, walk right in, and before we know it, we're taking a bite out of that incredibly delicious vanilla cupcake.

But what on earth are these New York city push-cart vendors thinking? We see them every day, on dozens of street corners, selling hot dogs, sodas, pretzels and grilled chicken skewers. Grilled chicken skewers? Make that burnt skewers. They are either bad marketers or the worst grill masters walking the face of the earth. Whatever it is they are doing, their fare seems to remain most popular with the highly intoxicated on a late Saturday night. The two pictures in this article were taken on a warm, sunny, 55 degree New York day in November with not a single cloud in the sky. Yet half a city block was covered in smoke. I'm surprised no none had called 311, and filed a public complaint.

Just a few blocks away, on 39th Street and 7th Avenue, there is a Burger King, who for years has directed its exhaust pipe directly to the iron air vent grids outside that are supposed to get fresh air onto the subway platforms. But trust me: nothing good comes out of these pipes. The result: if you are standing on the subway platform of the 1 train underground, you wish you had an oxygen mask. What your lungs are taking in is not that summer night barbecue grill flavor making you dream of a juicy steak, but the putrid smell of rancid fat burning in the fire instead. The memory of that awful smell has been stuck in my mind for years, and it truly has has put my loyalty to the Whopper to the test.

How powerful these memories can be? Well, if I close my eyes, I am reliving the moments of joy I experienced back fifteen years ago at the Horton Plaza mall in downtown Sand Diego, brought to me by a place called - come on, google, help me real quick - ah, there it is: Cinnabon. I will never forget the sweet smell of oven-fresh baked cinnamon buns that came out of an oven-exhaust pipe that was strategically pointed at the sidewalk outside, which made escaping the temptation almost impossible.

For further reading, I recommend Marcel Proust's: In search for lost time. A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past.

Related link:
A blog dedicated to the science of Scent Marketing

November 22, 2010

The Gap new logo mess – what went wrong?

"Classic, American design to modern, sexy, cool"?

Rewind: on October 4, 2010, The GAP announced it would transition its iconic logo from “classic, American design to modern, sexy, cool”. What followed was a storm of negative consumer feedback – about 90% rejected the new version.
(For links relating to the full story, see at the bottom of this mail).
The new logo however looked like it was designed in MS Paint or Word Perfect. It was just so… plain ugly. After just one week, GAP pulled the story and buried the project silently.

What went wrong at ‘The Gap’? I don’t think they will ever tell us. Let us however think for a moment. You have serious business people running a company in San Francisco. They went to Business school. They work for a public company that is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They have pressure from their investors – they have to publish quarterly results. And that is as much long-term focus as they have. Add an economic climate to the mix that has most retailers mark down their goods by 20, 30, 40 or even 50% (yes, it’s nasty out there right now), and you have people panicking.

What can we do? Well, you can’t force people to buy. You can change advertising agencies. Or you can try yet another advertising campaign to seduce the people. Gap’s advertising agency of record, Laird & Partners in New York, is very good at that. If the campaign however doesn’t get people to spend their dollars, what else can you do?

Enter the Gap’s marketing department. Strategy meeting. Panic there as well. Measure of last resort: let’s change the logo! Everyone nods. Ad agency gets a call. Creative presentation with a strategic set-up outlining the rationale. Something about a new customer type. They call them ‘millennials’. And the new logo is for them. Everyone nods. Let’s do it.

The problem with all this: between the Gap’s marketing meeting, and Laird designing a new logo, no one did the thinking. No brand strategist sat down and analyzed the brand’s equity, assessed the implications, the possible outcome, did some consumer testing. What a mess this was. I’m pretty sure someone got the boot for that.

A lesson for every marketing manager: don’t confuse an advertising agency with a branding/identity shop. Laird & Partner is a formidable agency with a proven track record, and an impressive client roster. Just check out their website. They are, however, a creative boutique. They produce aesthetic visuals. Still, and in motion. Agencies like that are not strategically driven. Creative people, often-flamboyant personalities, and sometimes even eccentric ones run them. Strategy there is the ugly step child, serving the purpose of post-rationalizing the creative in some kind of way. Most often it exists primarily to sell an idea or a concept to the client vs. doing what's right for the brand and the client's business.

Yet in the case of the GAP logo, even that doesn’t serve as an explanation, since the outcome is just so very bad. Did an intern work on this? I don’t know. What were clearly missing in this ‘value chain’ of creative components were a brand strategy/brand identity firm, and preliminary consumer testing. The results would have shown that this was a bad call from the beginning, and the story would have never seen the light of day in the first place.

Lesson for The GAP: You’ve spent years building an iconic brand. You’ve pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into this. Don’t throw your most valuable asset out of the window just like that. That’s just plain dumb. Seriously. Look at the logo evolution of Coke vs. Pepsi. It’s pretty clear who’s number one, and who’s the runner up.

One thought on the "modern, sexy, and cool" attempt of the new logo. Well, it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t mean anything. It shows how poorly thought through this project was. The meaning assigned to these attributes solely depends on your age and where you’ve set your cultural anchor... something that is modern, sexy and cool is not so much modern, sexy and cool six months from now. What do you do then? Change the logo? Again? Timeless, classic, and cool would be a better attempt. But wait – isn’t that what the iconic GAP logo is all about?

I think I just heard Mickey Drexler laughing out loud in his offices at J. Crew...

Related links:
Oct 12, 2010: New Gap Logo Dead at One Week (Vanity Fair)
Oct 7, 2010: Gap Speaks Out: Yes, the Logo Is Real (AdAge)

November 21, 2010

Social Media Experiment: American Airlines & John Legend

It all began so well. We were in the Meatpacking District on a fashion photo shoot. Next to us, in front of Hogs and Heifers, a New York dive bar, three guys in blue American Airlines t-shirts were handing out free concert tickets for John Legend & The Roots to those 'fans', who found time and location on AA's facebook page. So far so good. Word spread, a constant flow of frequent fliers came to pick up the tickets, and I managed to disguise myself as part of the in-crowd as well.

Two weeks later. Brooklyn. Williamsburg. Hipsterland. Getting off the L-Train at the Bedford stop, you could feel the cool factor coming. American Airlines seemed to have gotten this one right. A legitimate artist, the right location, some mystery surrounding the hunt for tickets - makes you feel special. Enter the venue. Crowd check. Style check. Positive. A nice mix of people. A good vibe. Surprisingly exciting for a Tuesday night.

The tension rises. The place is packed. The crowd is pumped up. Then, finally: stage lights on. Final sound check. The spot light pointing to the stage entry... the crowd gets louder... the stage door opens... and here he is - no wait, here he's not - who the f... is that?

Onto the stage walks a stocky guy in his mid-thirties, worn out blue jeans, square tip bulky black leather shoes, ill-fitted business dress shirt, the collar tips curled up, the top button casually unbuttoned, sporting a goatee and square black eye-glasses.

"Hello everybody! My name is John Smith (name altered by author), and I'm the Director of Social Media for American Airlines..." What follows are ten minutes of CAMS - Corporate American Marketing Speak. "... 10% off your next flight with the coupon handed to you at the end of the show...", "... make sure to tweet and post about this event on your facebook...", and so on and so forth. One could feel the cool vibe that had filled the music call being sucked out the door with every second he kept on talking.

Advice to American Airlines: If you pay John Legend and The Roots tons of money to have some of his vibe rub off on you, you should at least throw in a few bucks to pay a professional VJ, actor, or even one of those uber-cool Brooklyn hipsters to give the intro. Put them in skinny jeans if need be, add some Chucks to it, and for Christ's sake even a trucker's hat. Let him talk for two, three minutes, max. Keep the excitement level up. Mold the energy, before handing it over to Mr. Legend.

When the artist finally appeared on stage, one could read his thoughts in his eyes. To John Smith: "Yes, I'm taking your money. But I'm not going to bed with you. Now get the hell off my stage" To the crowd: "Sorry guys. I'll have my manager rewrite the contract so things like this won't happen in the future. Now let's play some music, and have some fun."

The lesson here: If you're a Director, stay in the background, and direct. Unless you have the talent, and the charisma of a Richard Branson, a Donald Trump or a Karl Lagerfeld, stay in the background, and hire a professional.

Oh, and that coupon, with the 10% off, I must have lost it somewhere. John, if you're reading this, would you mind sending me another one?

November 20, 2010

Girl scout cookies anyone?

Peanut Butter Pattie + Peanut Butter Sandwich + Thin Mint

And the award for most brilliant marketing scheme of all times goes to - The Girl Scouts of America! Just a few days ago, it dawned on me. These girls have it all figured out. The perfect business plan.

As I walked into my Manhattan office tower, I saw them standing in the lobby. Three little girls in their spotless, green little uniforms, supported by their proud moms, standing by a plastic folding table stacked with cookies. Impossible to pass them unnoticed. "Hello Sir! Do you want to buy some cookies?" How can you say no to that? Three boxes. Done. Into the elevator. Up. Out of the elevator. Into the office. On every single desk: cookies. Two boxes, three boxes. Five boxes.

Flashback: a year ago, different company. Girl scout cookie season. A female co-worker working the office, one desk at a time. In her hand: a sign-up sheet for her daughter's girl scout cookie sales contest. What are you going to do? Say no, and feel the abuse for weeks to come? Hell no. "Yeah, sure, sign me up for three. Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwich and Thin Mints" Done. And I don't even like cookies. Oh well. You can always share the love and make some friends, right?

Sitting in my cubicle, and thinking of all the millions of boxes of girl scout cookies being sold simultaneously, I couldn't help but wonder - is there a gigantic girl scout cookie factory somewhere in the U.S., with little girls mixing flour, eggs, and chocolate chips? Can't be. That would be child labor. So it must be a legit business. With a real CEO, factory workers, full-time employees, a truck fleet, a marketing and a distribution strategy.

Wait - distribution strategy? Of course! Little girls, working for free, in every state, county, and city in America! Being supported - for free - by their moms and dads, leaving no stone unturned. Simply brilliant! Payroll for sales force - zero. Commission for sales results - a badge. Motivation of sales force - purely intrinsic!

If only the people at the post office showed some of the commitment these little girls do...

And that's the way the cookie crumbles.


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