Natural Disasters and Marketing

Companies need to tread lightly when it comes to marketing around a natural disaster.  With Superstorm Sandy, 100+ people died worldwide and damage estimates are at $20 Billion and growing.  That doesn’t make for a great marketing opportunity in most instances, but it can, if done correctly.

American Apparel caused a Twitter firestorm when they offered a Hurricane Sandy Sale.  As if that wasn’t tasteless enough, their headline read “In case you’re bored during the storm.”  Seriously.  The company was slammed on social media with outrage and rightly so, in my humble opinion.

Closer to (my) home, and with much less publicity, a local winery committed a similar marketing faux pas.  Glenora Wine Cellars offered customers a Hurricane Sandy Sale.

While not as egregious, I still thought it was in very poor taste (especially the picture).  I made my opinion known on their Facebook page, commenting on their post about the promotion.  Within hours, their post (along with my comment) was removed.  Their website still offered the promotion, and I called them out on Twitter for it.

Within hours, their web page promotion was removed too.  What couldn’t be removed were the emails the winery sent out to their list.

So what’s a “good” way to market around a natural disaster?  How about showing some compassion?  How about figuring out how to help the victims through a donation of time, talent, product or service?  Duracell brought charging stations to Lower Manhattan so that those without power could charge their cell phones.  They’re helping victims of Hurricane Sandy and garnering positive publicity and public relations in the process.

It’s such a simple concept when you compare the positive example to the negative ones, isn’t it?  Yet so many companies get it wrong.  One would hope that marketers would learn from these mistakes.  Sadly, history will likely repeat itself and some company will damage their image and reputation by running a tasteless promotion during the next natural disaster.  Hopefully, they have a public relations department or company at their disposal.  Even better would be to employ some common sense.

Want to help the victims?  Below are links to various organizations assisting in the relief efforts (list not to be considered an endorsement):

Red Cross

Salvation Army

New York Blood Center

Feeding America

AmeriCares

World Vision

Save The Children

Before you donate in a time of crisis, make sure you do your homework on the charitable organization.  Here are some tips by Charity Navigator.

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Bacon!

Perhaps I’m overly critical, having spent nearly 20 years analyzing the effectiveness of nearly 200,000 advertisements.  As a result, I find most ads to be quite ineffective, actually.  When something catches my critical eye as being the exception to (my) rule, I can’t wait to share it.

Oscar Mayer recently launched an ad campaign that I thought is pretty clever.  And if I had to guess, I expect it will be successful too.  It’s called “Bacon Barter” and it’s about a man travelling across the U.S. (12 cities) with 3,000 pounds of bacon who will trade that bacon for everything he needs, including food, gas, lodging and entertainment.  Here’s why I think it will work . . .

1)  Most Americans love bacon!  Bacon is delicious…enough said.  🙂

2)  The campaign will capitalize on regional/local promotions as the barterer travels across the country.  Even though the campaign is national, it will incorporate valuable local/regional publicity as it progresses.

3)  It incorporates humor.  Traditionally, humor works (just watch the Super Bowl, although Super Bowl spots have gone down-hill in recent years in my opinion).

4)  It incorporates social media.  As of September 12th, @baconbarter already has over 1,800 followers on Twitter.  Want to barter?  You can tweet your barter offer using the hashtag #baconbarter!  The Oscar Mayer page on Facebook already has 734,000+ likes (granted, not all due to this campaign).  They’re using Instagram too.

5)  The campaign feeds on (pardon the pun) Americans’ sense of travel and adventure.

6)  Americans love a good deal, so you can follow all of the barter deals he makes on their website and/or social media accounts.

But, Oscar Mayer better closely monitor the social media aspect of this campaign. Quite a few companies have had their seemingly clever campaign backfire in the social media world.  One recent example is McDonald’s, who asked fans to tweet about their favorite fond memories of Happy Meals using the hashtag #McDStories. Instead, Twitter was flooded with McDonald’s horror stories using that same hashtag.  If they’re not careful, I can see this account getting barter offers for all sorts of illegal products/services and that hashtag could quickly slide down-hill.

All of this writing is making me hungry!  Bacon, anyone?

Authenticity in Advertising

In my last post, I wrote about authenticity in social media.  With this post, I’m focusing on authenticity in advertising.  While that subject could likely provide enough source material to teach a full semester’s course, I’ll narrow it down to fast food advertising (and just this one post).

It’s not a secret that many hours go into enhancing the look of fast food products.  The lighting has to be just right, items are strategically placed, touch-ups are done.  In fact, quite often what you see isn’t the actual food product but something made to look like it.  Is that really ice cream you’re seeing in a commercial, or scoops of lard covered in motor oil?  Is it milk in that cereal bowl, or watered-down glue?  Yes, you read those examples correctly.  🙂

Since learning about these techniques in college,  I’ve never really trusted fast food advertising.  Watch the video below and your level of trust might be lower too.

There’s a recent trend that’s become an advertising pet peeve of mine.  Have you noticed fast food restaurants often include slow-motion shots of sandwiches being meticulously constructed with farm-fresh ingredients using pristine instruments?  It’s almost like watching a culinary version of the game “Operation!”  Do you really think that’s what occurs after you place your order at the drive-thru?  Or, is it more likely someone is slapping together food warmed under a heat lamp as quickly as possible using their hands (hopefully with gloves)?

For the above reasons, I find authenticity in fast food advertising significantly lacking.  What other industries need to do a better job of being authentic in their advertising?

A New Advertising World – Part 1

Depending on your television viewing habits, you may have noticed a gradual change in advertising over the past few years.

Not too long ago, prescription drug manufacturers could not advertise on television.  Instead, they focused on trade/B2B magazines targeted to physicians and other medical industry professionals (as well as direct mail, trade shows, branded merchandise and samples).  I measured the effectiveness of literally thousands of these advertisements, in dozens of publications, over many years.  Print advertising rates are based on many factors, but are primarily driven by audience size (circulation quantity), quality (subscriber profile), page size, page color and frequency.

It was quite apparent that these companies had large budgets when it came to advertising.  Instead of the standard one page advertisement with color, their advertising was often 4+ pages printed on heavy-weight glossy card stock.  And sometimes, they would advertise more than once within the same issue.  Because most people outside of the medical industry don’t have the opportunity to see this kind of advertising, what you also missed was a page or two (or more!) of contraindications.  That’s a fancy word for side effects, how the drugs interact with other drugs and conditions that would warrant avoiding the drug and complications that could arise as a result of taking it.

Fast-forward several years and regulations have been lessened to allow drug manufacturers to advertise on television.  Most drug manufacturers jumped at the chance to advertise on television because it brought prestige to their product.

The biggest change is that they’re no longer targeting the doctors and medical industry professionals but the end-consumers and patients.  “Ask your doctor about [drug name here]” is the new normal.  They’ve altered the marketing dynamic by creating consumer demand to supplement physician knowledge.

What hasn’t changed?  The need to incorporate the contraindications as part of the advertising.  So the same commercial that spends time praising the amazing benefits of the drug being advertised must also spend time telling you all the bad things that could happen too.  While it’s probably a good thing that they have to disclose that information, they’re sharing it with those who aren’t qualified to make complicated prescription decisions.

Is having to include negative information in the commercial ultimately hurting their marketing efforts?  There’s certainly an increased volume of television commercials for prescription products.

Why do you think they’re working?  Do you think people simply tune-out that part of the message, or is there some other reason?  Or, do you think they don’t work and the drug manufacturers simply have a budget large enough to advertise on television despite incorporating a negative message?

Part 2 on this topic has been published.

Plan Ahead Now for 2012 Holidays

In a recent Ad Age article, they advised marketers to plan ahead now for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Your calendar is correct – it’s only April and Easter was just this past Sunday.

As we learned last year (for many, with regret and disillusionment), the holiday shopping season moved back one day to Thanksgiving Day.   Expect more companies to jump on that bandwagon this year as for the most part, it was a successful strategy.  Think it will stop there?  Think again.  Expect the kickoff date to slide even earlier in subsequent years.

For marketers, the planning indeed needs to start now.  After all, there are the proverbial ducks to get in a row.  If you’re uncertain about your “ducks” – the answers to the questions of who? what? where? when? why? how? then you desperately need market research.  Without it, you’ll be planning blindfolded and will likely fail before you even begin.  I’d even argue that it should be your first duck in that proverbial row.

Properly designed market research can provide the answers to those questions, giving you direction for your planning.  It will capture where you are and where you need to be with your efforts.  It can prove or disprove assumptions you’ve made about your industry, your customers or your clients.  It can confirm a good plan and point out the flaws of a bad plan.

If you’re not experienced with market research, don’t assume any old Survey Monkey survey that you or your intern whips up will do.  Bad idea.  Really bad idea.  Poorly designed market research is actually worse than no research.  It could lead you to draw incorrect conclusions and send you down the wrong path.

If you think you can’t afford to incorporate market research as part of your planning process, I’d say you can’t afford not to.  Companies don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.  No company is too big or small to need market research.

When is the last time you professionally researched your industry, company, competitors and/or customers?

Social Media Abandonment

Most people involved with social media, even casual users, have likely come across an account that’s been inactive for weeks, months or even years.  I’m sure they were originally created with the best of intentions yet for one or more reasons, they’ve been abandoned or forgotten about.

For some, the account may have been abandoned because the goal was attained (perhaps he used social media to increase visibility with his job search and was hired).  For others, maintaining the account was possibly a sacrifice that was made due to time constraints.  Maybe others didn’t meet their objectives and decided to discontinue their social media efforts because it failed in their eyes.

There are a few problems abandoned accounts can cause the active user.  The first is having to determine whether or not an account you’re initially interested in following is active.  It’s an unfortunate part of the process.  Another is that some abandoned accounts have coveted user names.  Freeing coveted-yet-abandoned user names could be beneficial for marketing purposes (professional and/or personal).  Lastly there’s the image problem abandoned accounts create, but that’s a problem they’ve brought upon themselves. 

In the world of social media, what do you think can be done to clean up abandoned accounts?  Should accounts that have been inactive for a lengthy period of time be suspended or deleted in an effort to “protect” active accounts and improve the experience for active users?

But what if the account was abandoned for a more serious reason?  I read an article this past weekend which described a grieving mother whose son died in a motorcycle accident.  She wished to access his Facebook site in hopes of interacting with his friends to keep his memory alive.  The article raised a great question as to whether or not your digital footprint can be considered part of your estate.  I’ll be honest – I’ve never thought about what would happen to my social media sites and email accounts if something tragic should happen to me.

What are your thoughts on abandoned accounts?  Do you have a different opinion when the cause of abandonment is one of neglect versus one of tragedy?

Marketing Lessons From Johnny Bravo

Arthur Catalanello & Barry WilliamsThis past weekend I had the thrill of meeting a celebrity from my youth, Barry Williams.  You might know him by his character Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch, or even his alter ego Johnny Bravo.  He was in Rochester to participate in a local production and had a solo show, “Growing Up Brady.”

As someone who watched every episode (multiple times) of The Brady Bunch in my youth, it was personally exciting to meet him.  If you grew up in the 1970s, Greg Brady was someone who most guys wanted to be and most girls wanted to be with.

His local event was a lot of fun for fans of The Brady Bunch.  He shared stories about filming the series, spoke of his relationships with the cast and discussed the various spin-offs and specials that followed in subsequent years.  Additionally, he sang, showed rare home movies from behind the scenes, he taught audience members how to dance like a Brady, took questions from the audience and made time for a “meet and greet” after the event.

Barry Williams unintentionally taught the crowd a few marketing lessons that afternoon too:

  1. Play to your strengths.  While some cast members have tried to escape their Brady Bunch past to an extent, he’s seemingly embraced it.  He’s had a long acting career on stage, but he recognizes that he’ll always be primarily identified with Greg Brady.  Why not turn that into a strength and a positive?  He has.
  2. Identify your core values and messaging.  Barry was asked a few times why he thought the Brady Bunch has been as successful as it has.  His response was that the show identified the values and messaging it wanted to focus on, and it stuck to them throughout its run.  That was true of most of the spin-offs and specials.  The least successful of those were when they decided to have the characters tackle much darker and more serious issues.  When they seemingly abandoned their core values and messaging, viewers didn’t approve.
  3. Humbleness = Likeability.  It was apparent from his opening rap song, “The Real Greg Brady” (a parody rap song, sung to Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”) that Barry Williams has a great sense of humor and does not take himself too seriously.  He can laugh at his past – especially the bad dance moves shown in clips from the Brady Bunch Variety Hour.  Humor often wins people over and this was no exception.
  4. Honesty and transparency brings and strengthens loyalty.  Barry Williams was forthcoming with many details about The Brady Bunch and even incorporated a Question and Answer session into the show.  There were no polished, politically correct, canned responses that I could detect.  In marketing, honesty and transparency brings and strengthens loyalty.  I’m sure his fans left Saturday’s show with a stronger connection to him than before.
  5. Everyone wants to be “cool.”  People want to be cool and brands want to be seen as cool.  When asked to comment on the celebrity guest appearances on The Brady Bunch, he spoke of Don Drysdale, Joe Namath and Davy Jones.  You could see his excitement when he said that Joe Namath recognizes him to this day.  Even Johnny Bravo, “Mr. Cool” in Brady Bunch lore, looks up to someone.  🙂  Makes you wonder which brands the “cool brands” look up to.

Sometimes, marketing lessons come when you’re least expecting them.  Now that’s groovy!

3 Reasons Why Quality is More Important than Quantity

Quality vs. QuantityA friend recently shared a story about a client who gave him the sole directive of increasing fans/followers in social media, specifically the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers.  In fact, this client wanted to structure his consulting fee strictly around the quantity of fans/followers.

Fortunately for this business, my friend has ethics and attempted to illustrate the error with that kind of thinking.  Here are 3 reasons why quality is more important than quantity when it comes to social media.

  1. Fans/Followers can be bought.  Services exist that allow you to purchase fans/followers to make your social media presence seem important and popular.  While that might fool some who give your site a cursory look, it doesn’t take much digging beneath the surface to uncover the house of cards your social media popularity is built on.  If your following can be bought, how authentic is it?  If your business is mostly local, odds are purchased fans will not be, so how will that be of any value?
  2. Real fans are more likely to interact.  Engagement has been the buzz word in social media for some time, and rightly so.  Which would you rather have?  50 fans who are truly fans and would not hesitate to recommend you to family and friends?  Or, 100 fans who will never visit your site, never try your product/service, or never recommend you to family and friends?  Real fans, engaged fans, are brand ambassadors.
  3. Social media is meant to have a conversational element.  When you concentrate on quantity over quality, the conversational element will likely suffer.  If the quality of the conversation is there from day one, your fan base will grow at a natural rate, and you’ll increase quantity without sacrificing quality.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to build relationships with followers who don’t care and are not engaged.

Think about your own involvement in social media.  Think about the sites you’ve willingly followed.  Has there been a site you’ve recommended to others?  Why?  It goes beyond brand loyalty, doesn’t it?  Chances are, it’s a two-way street.  You value the content on the site and the business values you as a fan/follower/customer.

When that two-way street becomes one-way, it’s the equivalent of a dead-end road.  Consumers don’t want to waste their time on a dead-end, and neither do (most) businesses that know what they’re doing with social media.

What are some of your favorite sites to follow, and what makes them so special to you?

How Well Do You Know Your Customer?

If I had $1 for every business owner who thought he/she knew their customers very well, I’d be wealthy and retired at this point.  The sad reality is, most businesses think they know their customer, but their perception is almost always inaccurate (and sometimes by quite a bit).

I once worked with an established retail business in Rochester, NY that sold men’s fine clothing.  They were convinced their clientele were, on average, “male, 50 years or older, from the eastern suburbs, wealthy and watched prestigious networks on television like CNN.”  While that seemed plausible, I still conducted market research analysis with two main goals.  The first was to verify their customers’ demographics and the second was to research the media consumption of the actual demographic.

When the data was tabulated, it showed their customer base to be much younger and less affluent than they thought.  As a result, different television networks were a better fit.  Imagine their shock when I demonstrated how their advertising would be more effective (and cost-effective) on MTV instead of CNN!

Since seeing is not always believing, the client wanted to stick with the media plan involving CNN.  I was able to convince them to incorporate MTV into the plan as a trial, and suggested they simply ask customers if and where they saw their television commercial and keep a manual tabulation next to the cash register.  At the end of one month, MTV had a 3x advantage over CNN.

Seeing that MTV was significantly less expensive than CNN at the time, by concentrating on the proper network for their customer base, they could cut their ad spend, double their advertising frequency and triple (at minimum) their impact.  Now that’s what I call bang for the advertiser’s buck!

If you own a business, how well do you think you know your customer? If you haven’t conducted market research recently, I’d suggest there are many things you could learn.

Pathways to Entrepreneurial Success 2012

This week I’ll be delivering two presentations at Pathways to Entrepreneurial Success 2012.  It’s the third installment of this annual event in the Rochester, NY area.  Pathways is a great forum that connects entrepreneurs (and those who are curious about starting their own business) with local business owners, mentors, educators and community resources.

I had the pleasure of being involved with the first Pathways in 2009, helping to promote the event as well as conducting attendee satisfaction research.  My research helped provide some ideas to the founders of the event for improving it in subsequent years.

For the 2010 Pathways event, I participated on the marketing and social media committees as the forum expanded and improved in its second year.

With the 2012 forum, I’m honored to have been asked to deliver two presentations on social media basics for business:  Getting Your Business Started With Twitter, and Getting Your Businesss Started With Blogging. 

I’m happy to share these brief presentations with you below, although you’ll get the most value from them by attending the event on January 18, 2012.  🙂  If you have any questions about the information presented, please do not hesitate to leave a comment on this blog or contact me directly.

Getting Your Business Started With Twitter

Getting Your Business Started With Blogging