Practical marketing information for small to midsize marketers from Nader Ashway in NYC

Now That’s Punny!

If you love advertising, you probably love good writing. Because, after all (with all due respect to the wonderful art directors and designers out there,) the creative side of advertising is, ultimately, a writer’s business.

If you are a fan of advertising history, as I am, you’ll know that, in the early days, clients went to ad agencies for one thing: superior writing. This was, of course, in the age before television, (when eye candy became the commodity of promotion.) But for more than 50 years, newspaper, magazine and radio – and the writers who developed all that copy – ruled the ad world.

In today’s more outsized, outpaced, hypertargeted marketing world, the ad agent has a much more robust toolset. Beyond words, there are pictures, video, and moving pixels virtually everywhere.   (See what I did there?) But if you want to reach consumers, it’s still a few well-orchestrated words that people will ultimately remember.

These days, it seems we’re writing for a different reason. It’s not so much for memorability as much as it is for virality. I would surmise that social media has pervaded the creative process so much that creative teams in agencies large and small sit in meetings and think less “how can we connect to consumers?” and more “what do you think will get shared?”

Let’s look at a few ads that are playing with words, using a sort of snarky pun game to gain some attention.

Sheets Energy Strips started their brand off with some word play in 2011. “I’ve taken a Sheet right in the cockpit.” Just what you want to hear from your pilot, eh?

 

Kmart sought to re-establish itself as a more current brand with some pun humor on their famous “ship my pants” spot from 2013. And whether or not you like this kind of humor, you might actually shit your pants when you hear that it has more than 21 million views on YouTube.

 

Verizon is out with a new campaign (and a corresponding hashtag, I might add) featuring the ever-so-homophonic “half-fast” meme for its Internet products with a “Speed Match” guarantee. Here’s a holiday spot:

 

If you look closely at the examples above, you’ll see an evolution of the form. Sheets simply did a play on words for the sake of it. But there was no real value to the consumer. (There WAS a value to the brand, in that the meme was a good way for consumers to remember the brand name.)

Kmart did a better marketing job, in that they had the fun, and at least communicated an important feature: that you can shop online at Kmart.com, and that they would ship your pants, or your drawers, or your bed. For FREE.

But Verizon seems to be going a step further, and trying to tie in a benefit. Or at least a negatively associated benefit. By playing on the half-fast theme, they’re communicating the important feature of upload speed that matches download speed. (And taking a shot a the “cable connection” competitors who don’t deliver matching speed.) But with the meme, they’re highlighting all the things that you CAN’T do with half-fast connections, like “I’ll be half fast when I’m sharing my photos,” and “I’ll be half fast updating my blog.” And although they’re negatively associated, those are still functional benefits, and they go a lot further with consumers.

Which is why it strikes me that more campaigns aren’t harnessing the power of language to its fullest potential. I see a lot of great work out there – meaning great ideas – but we rarely see a willingness to play with language the way we once did. Where’s the “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” or the “Leggo my Egg’o” lines for breakfast foods? Where’s the “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz?” And heck “Where’s the Beef?”

If you’re going to go for some fun with your next ad, have at it. But note the conventions and craft it to take it up the ladder and deliver some actual value – like a benefit – to the consumer while you have your pun and eat it too…or something like that.

Advertising creative has a lot of moving parts.  There’s the brand’s voice and its implicit promise.  There’s the creative idea that’s holding the ad together.  There are the visuals.  The copy.  In many cases, the VO and the supers and the animation and the call to action.  And the magic pixie dust that we’re all after to sprinkle it with some kind of lasting power and persuasiveness.

But there’s this “other” part that no one really talks about.  The critical part (or parts) that the consumer BRINGS to every ad.  I realized recently that not many of us are including this in our craft.  And it’s time to change that.

Even though advertising seems like a one-way conversation (the brand just shouting out “look at me!” or “sale ends tomorrow!” or in some cases whispering “get over here, sexy,”) it’s not.  The consumer brings a lot of stuff into the mix, and in that magic moment when she reviews your work, it’s deeply influencing how she perceives the brand you’re working for.  I see advertising much more as a careful dance between brand and consumer, and there are a lot of attitudes, feelings and suspicions providing the background music.

There are probably a million little attitudinal elements that consumers bring to ads, but I’ve narrowed it down to what I think are the six most important:

DESIRE.
We all know the pure fact that none of us would have a job if consumers didn’t have wants and needs that they’re trying to fulfill every day.  And in the modern American experience, brands are fulfilling all kinds of desires for consumers every day.  It’s important to distinguish needs and wants here…It may be very true that consumer X needs motorized transportation to take him to and from work.  But he WANTS a BMW, based on the experiences he’s had, and likely, the advertising he’s seen.

You can do a whole semester just on consumer desire, but understand this:  we’re all clawing and scratching for the same things deep down.  We want people to like and affirm us.  And (some might see it as sadly,) we strive for that by what we do, what we wear, where we eat and the labels on everything we consume.
The consumer brings desire to every ad.  Fulfill it.

KNOWLEDGE:
Consumers are smart, and getting smarter about the things they want and the products they buy.  But they’re also smart about advertising.  They know (mostly) that they’re being retargeted in digital.  They know why they’re receiving certain offers in their inbox.  And they know that slick copywriters are weilding language in a way that shrouds the selling messages.  So they’re looking through that.  And by the way, they’ll know when you’re wrong.  Here’s an example:

citi_lo

Cute ad, right?  Makes the point about the convenience of the Citi Mobile App, and ties it right into the language of the subway commuter.  (As you can see, this ad appeared on a subway station in Manhattan.)

One small problem:  THE B TRAIN DOES NOT STOP AT 14th STREET.  And since the target consumer also brings knowledge of the NYC Subway System to the reading of this ad, the wheels kind of fall off abruptly.  The consumer starts reading and says, “wait…the B doesn’t stop at 14th street…it goes express to West 4th.”  The imaginary part of the conversation might then continue, “well, if Citi doesn’t even know the basics of the subway system like I do, how can I trust them to know more than me about mobile banking?”  See?  It’s some dangerous shit.
The consumer brings knowledge to every ad.  So get your facts straight.

PROBLEMS.
One of the cornerstones of marketing [and why advertising exists] is the premise that consumers are trying to solve problems in their daily lives.  They ask internal (and sometimes out loud, if you ride the subway long enough,) questions like “how can I lower my blood pressure?” or “how do I get my ass to look good in these jeans?” and “what steps should I take to prepare for retirement?”  And similar to the desire stuff we discussed above, in many cases, they look to brands to help them solve those problems.  Not every ad can do that.  But in the ones that are explanatory, and for products that might aid consumers, give ‘em a little help, eh?
The consumer brings problems to every ad.  Help him solve at least one of them.

CURIOSITY.
Consumers are inherently curious.  Heck, you might say we’ve trained them to be.  Every day, new products come out, new services, new concepts to help them solve problems.  And they don’t just want to know what you’ve got, they want to know what’s behind the curtain, too.  You don’t have to give away the farm, but you can certainly meet this need with a few well-placed words, images and ideas.
The consumer brings curiosity to every ad.  So satisfy it.

BIAS.
As nice as consumers are, they can be pretty picky, too.  Or grumpy.  Let’s face it, they’ve seen like 5,000 ads already today, so the last thing they’re interested in is your opinionated, slanted, over-promising, under-delivering puffery.  No, you have to understand that the person you’re talking to is smart, experienced and has opinions of her own.  So tread carefully, make your case convincingly and you just might change a mind or two along the way.

exxon_lo

Here’s another ad I saw while riding the subway this morning.  Attention-getting?  You betcha.  But when you think of the bias the consumer brings to the reading of this ad, it’s either an immediate “yes” or a decisive “no.”  I don’t love those odds, and would rather have a “definite maybe” from every eyeball.
The consumer brings bias to every ad.  So overcome it.

If you’re involved in either the strategy or the craft of advertising, make this the last item on your review of the work:  what’s the consumer bringing to the reading of this ad, and are we addressing that intelligently and in alignment with the brand who has entrusted us?  It’s quite a dance when you get a hang of the steps.

In the wake of the recent developments with the Ray Rice video-gone-viral situation, it’s become very clear that, as a nation of content consumers, seeing is way more potent and far more powerful than believing.

The politics and passion surrounding what happened in that elevator aside, (reprehensible behavior that should never be tolerated, even under intense provocation,) the basic truth of the matter is this: we all KNEW what Ray Rice did to his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in that elevator. We KNEW there was an assault that was egregious enough to knock her unconscious. But SEEING it cemented it in our minds, and suddenly made others take different and more severe action as a result.

The Baltimore Ravens Football Club KNEW what Ray Rice did as far back as February. The team even stepped up and defended Mr. Rice, including making statements about his character and willingness to rehabilitate himself.

But something about SEEING the incident on video has changed everything. It changed his punishment, it changed his employment status and it has impacted his future and his ability to earn a living as a professional athlete.

And there are many other cases, some very recent, that follow this same path: we KNOW what happens, either by reading about it, or hearing about it, but something about seeing it takes our understanding of the concept to a whole new level. In terms of online videos alone, think the gruesome ISIS beheading of James Foley, the chaos in the moments following the Boston Marathon bombing, and (pardon the sudden shift in gears,) even the Miley Cyrus twerking debacle at the 2013 MTV VMAs.

But why?

There seems to be something deeply embedded in our psychology when it comes to seeing moving pictures, (they’re even more potent than static images,) that takes our understanding – and our belief – to an entirely new level. A big reason is that what we consider perception is far more than a simple functional process. Indeed, perception is influenced and even altered by emotional factors, by our personal histories and by our psychological predispositions. You can go further into this topic, and look up subjects like unconscious interference and the Gestalt Laws of Organization to see how the human mind does a lot more than just process visual information.

There’s no wonder, then, that when television came along as a serious medium with enough reach (think early 1960’s,) that it decimated radio and print and quickly became the primary carrier of advertising. Same reasons apply: it was one thing to hear things, and read them, (and some practitioners wrote and read spectacular copy in that regard,) and an even better thing to see beautiful static images. But gazing at a shiny new Cadillac glide across the screen? Watching a puff of Lucky Strike smoke waft into the air? Seeing those four moptops bounce around on the Ed Sullivan show? That’s what pushed us over the edge. That’s what made us believe and then some.

Marketing is not about selling stuff. That may be an outcome, but marketing is really about managing perceptions. (Knowing that perception is more than just a simple function of understanding.)  And if you want to do that?  Show, don’t tell.

Sure, there will always be an arena for print and radio advertising, but there’s a reason TV and web advertising comprise over $100 billion in advertising spend. Seeing – and watching – are believing. If you don’t believe me, just ask Ray Rice.

Creative or Re-creative?

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” So the saying goes. But when that imitation becomes a direct lift of concept and content, is it flattery or is it something else? This question is begat with a new ad for an organization called GrassIsNotGreener.Com, who recently ran a full page ad in The New York Times to caution against widespread legalization of marijuana, and protest recent supportive editorials.

The ad uses a headline comprised of the two words “Perception” and “Reality.” [If it sounds familiar, you’re probably over 40 years old and in the marketing business. More on that in a moment.]

Cleverly art directed, the “perception” typography sits adjacent to an inset head shot of a semi-cute 20-something long-haired bandana-wearing stoner dude with a 2-day scruff (just long enough to denote slacker, but too short to pass for intended hipster stubble.)

The “reality” typography sits two inches below, and we see that the main image of the ad is that of a power-suit sporting corporate executive at the head of a board room table. The obligatory wristwatch, broad single Windsor, a rocks tumbler filled with spring water, and the latest quarterly earnings report comprise the modest styling of the shot.SAM_ad_full_page_NYT_11.55x21_31Jul14_FINAL-1

The copy is strong, and gets to its points quickly and clearly. Not a word wasted, and they took a firm shot at The New York Times along the way. They’re also borrowing a lot of negative equity from the tobacco industry, which is also hinted at in the copy.

All in all, this is a very good ad. It says, “hey…you think this one thing, but there’s another really important thing going on that you may not be aware of…so we’re here to make you more aware.”

Here’s the problem: it’s using a creative concept that’s been done before. And when I say “using,” I mean, damn-near-exactly DUPLICATING a creative approach that was done some 30 years ago. What further complicates this issue is that it wasn’t some obscure little creative execution that no one saw…this was a campaign (props to Fallon McElligott as they were known at the time,) that appeared in Advertising Age, among other publications, ran for a decade, won every major award known to man and other species, and was wildly successful for its client, Rolling Stone. (To add further props, it was a b-to-b campaign, a category in which people are still arguing “you can’t be super creative.” Right.)

RollingStoneVWbus2-640x427

[In case you’re interested, GrassIsNotGreener.com is supported by a group called ProjectSAM, [which stands for “smart approaches to marijuana,”] founded by former government officials and comprised of several medical, legal and volunteer organizations.]

But wait…there’s more. It’s not just that this ad directly lifts this concept. Boyd Communications, based in Shrieveport, LA, used the same (exact) concept for their client CryoLife to demonstrate that most people’s perceptions about age and cardiac valve transplants are wrong. Does it work to crystallize the point? Yes, extremely well. And while there’s nothing new under the sun in advertising, they could have used that helpful, “hey there’s more to know about this subject” approach without using the same exact words, no?

cryolife4

And it’s not like this hasn’t happened before over the last 100 years or so – it has, countless times. Big popular executions and little-known local work gets riffed on and ripped off all the time. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes, strong ideas simply resemble each other.

Advertising – especially creative strategy and execution – is about finding an effective “way in” to consumer perceptions. So when that way in has been paved on the efforts and talents of someone else, is that cool? I’m not sure. But when you use the exact same words, for the exact same ends, that is to say, when your creative is actually re-creative, we may have to start asking the question “what’s the compensation package for credit?”

In marketing, there’s almost nothing new under the sun. Even new developments in mobile and RTB are just platform-leveraging automations and algorithmically-enhanced functions of previous procedures. But what would happen if we took two sort-of-new concepts and smashed them together?

Here’s what I’m talking about: we all have a pretty good idea of what affiliate marketing is. In this arrangement, a marketer pays an affiliate on a performance basis for referral clicks from prospects. Clicks are more likely to occur when the prospect has trust in the content provider and understands that there’s an implied endorsement of the marketer’s product or service. The financial model is typically a revenue share.

 

affiliate_model

 

We also have a clear understanding of what retargeting is. In this arrangement, a cookie is dropped on a potential customer’s computer after they’ve visited a particular site. For a period of time, that prospect is served display ads for that site/product/service, creating context and recall. The financial model is typically on a CPM basis.

 

retargeting_model

Both of these are used in many ways, with varying degrees of frequency, and usually as a component in an integrated digital marketing plan. But what if we took these two models and smashed them together?

I’d call it affiliate retargeting.

In this arrangement, a prospect visits a site and consumes or browses content. A cookie is dropped on that prospect’s computer, and then contextual and relevant ads would follow that prospect around the web for a period of time. However, the ads would not be simply from the site the prospect visited, but rather from affiliated, relevant marketers that have made an arrangement with the content provider around certain keywords and targeting variables. (I smell an algorithm cooking!)

 

affiliate_retargeting_model

For vertical marketers, in either consumer or business marketing, this could create much deeper context and help prospects connect the dots. Here’s a simple example:

Let’s say you have a prominent blog in the popular music category. Let’s call the blog “MusicToday.com.” The site gets serious traffic, and discusses all the latest news, releases, tour information and more for various artists, categorized by genre. A prospect visits the site, reads an article about a country artist like Carrie Underwood, then exits the site. For the next several weeks, any number of marketers may be interested in serving ads to that prospect, especially if we could ascertain some basic targeting parameters:

  • A television network may be about to broadcast a special featuring the artist and is looking to increase tune-in. They may be one of the retargeters affiliated with MusicToday.com.
  • The record company may be trying to push a Carrie Underwood greatest hits album, or tour dates. They may be one of the retargeters affiliated with MusicToday.com.
  • A fashion brand may have a co-marketing deal with the artist, and wants to drive traffic to stores to check out her new line of signature jeans. They may be one of the retargeters affiliated with MusicToday.com.

In this arrangement, the affiliate would purchase the display ads (through an automated partner of course,) and pay a CPM for the impressions. The retargeters would pay the affiliate on the same model, but likely with a premium added for a more “qualified” or “targeted” impression. They may also set up an arrangement where conversions pay out on a revenue share model.

With all this talk about “brands as publishers,” this would really create a model where any blogger, content provider, gossip site, even corporate marketer could become a publisher in the truest sense of the word.

Is affiliate retargeting being done currently in b-to-b or b-to-c? If it is, I’d love to know how partners are arranging these deals, how they’re measuring/tracking performance and what kind of automation is being leveraged.

If it’s not being done, what the heck are we waiting for?

conversation_blog

No, no. Not that “C” word.

In the old days, (you know, as far back as the 1990’s,) marketing was largely a one-sided enterprise. Brands created campaigns that were directed outward to the consumers (large blocks of them) and then waited for the cash registers to ring. When that didn’t work, they just re-tooled the campaign, and tried it again. There was never any inclination to change the model.  Just a tweak in the creative, or a new account manager, or a line extension, and let’s tee it up again. Those days are over, for many reasons – but mostly because the “campaign-as-the-thing” approach stopped working.

The new word of the day in marketing has to be CONVERSATIONS. Because, more than ever, brands need to listen and respond in near-real-time in order to stay relevant. Consumers are in control of the messages they receive, when they receive them, and (Jeez, Louise!) on what devices they will be receiving them!

Is it the Internet’s fault? Yeah, probably. But the Internet just streamlined a distribution system for brands that brands always desperately wanted. Note to industry: be careful what you wish for. The system begets bugs. The system creates a new set and style of preferences.

And let’s be mindful that this is not a tipping of the scales – it’s actually a market correction. It’s only natural for the consumer to be in control when the basic DNA of marketing is choice. Because there’s competition – multiple entities vying for attention and striving to achieve the perception of superiority – the consumer is naturally in the driver’s seat…weighing benefits and making choices based on any number of criteria. (Whether they’re sound or not, mind you. With choice comes caprice.)

So, if you’re a brand, how do you have conversations?

Listen.
As with any conversation, listening is the best way to engage. You’ll learn, you’ll understand, and you’ll be able to exchange ideas with context. For brands, this new paradigm is an information gold mine. No more expensive focus groups, no more really expensive segmentations, no more super expensive risks. Today, you can publish content, and consumers will tell you in about 4 and a half minutes whether or not it’s crap. The brands that listen – and pay attention – seem to be the brands that excel.  Listening is why we have conversations – you already know what you are and what you know.  The goal, of course, is to hear other perspectives.

Inspire your audience to try something new/other.
Even if your audience is already buying your stuff on a regular basis, it’s worth deepening the relationship.  Ask them to try something new. Drive a new route. Try a new approach. Write an essay. Post a photo. Ask them to do ANYTHING but “buy our shit.” When you do that, you cheapen the opportunity to continue the conversation, and you make just about everything that follows suspect.

I’m not suggesting that marketers use diversionary tactics to engage audiences. I’m rather insisting that you find something ELSE to talk about than yourself.

Seed new conversations.
One of the “things” marketers can do is to seed new conversations. Sure, they can be contextual. They can even be categorically obvious. But let them be true, two-sided exchanges between parties where both parties participate, both parties are heard, and both parties have the opportunity to come out having learned something. (Here’s the dirty little secret: brands can do this over and over with zillions of people, and really really learn some things.)

Want to know what your next flavor should be? Want to know where to build your next location? Want to know what kind of features you should put into your next expensive piece of technology? Want to know whether you should wear those dopey throwback uniforms? Start a conversation, and listen. You’ll be amazed at what you find, especially if you’re in a position to act on that information.

aviation_image

At this point, nearly two weeks after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, the only certainty is the source of the next conspiracy theory.  We’ve heard every theory from hijacking to pilot suicide to computer hacking terrorism.  There’s no plane.  There’s no physical evidence.  There’s no group claiming responsibility.  And the worst part – there’s no concrete data to tell us where that plane was, where it was heading, or what might have gone wrong.  Some of the best thinking, not unsurprisingly, is being forwarded on WIRED.com.

Why is that?

It turns out that, as astounding an engineering feat it may be to get 30 tons of aluminum aloft and cruising at 500 mph, there really is not that much new “technology” in aviation.  Sure, there are on-board computers, there are advanced avionics systems, there’s radar and so on.  But in terms of how planes are tracked, the systems are still pretty crude.

In the United States, for instance, there can be upwards of 50,000 aircraft flying through the skies on any given day.  These are tracked through the air route traffic control centers (ARTCC) using basic radio frequencies.  A plane flying from New York to Los Angeles, for instance, is simply “handed off” from one ARTCC to the next, until it’s close enough to talk to the air traffic control tower (ATCT) at Los Angeles.  Along the way, they’re instructed on basic parameters:  what altitude to fly at, what heading to take and so on.  And flights heading across oceans don’t even have real-time contact:  they’re given a heading, an altitude, and they simply “check in” via high frequency radio with control centers that can be sometimes thousands of miles away.

When a plane crashes (a rare occurrence, in terms of probability,) or disappears (even less likely,) the investigation usually focuses on finding the “black box.”  The black box houses a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.  These record all kinds of information about the flight, including the mechanical data, and the conversations between the cockpit and the towers.

Why not modernize the flight data recording and cockpit voice recordings into a more technologically advanced system?  For instance, why doesn’t every commercial flight have a real-time data stream to the cloud?  From the time a plane is at the gate, through takeoff and climb, flight routing, approach and landing, EVERYTHING can be uploaded in real-time to the cloud.

This would be big data indeed.  On the receiving end, interested parties (from the airplane manufacturers to airline system executives to airports,) can monitor that data for all kinds of information BEFORE anything happens.  Think of the advances that might be realized:

  • A real-time data stream can tell the pilots and the airline about on-the-ground conditions, such as tire pressures, tire wear (heck even your basic automobile can do that,) hydraulics systems, power systems, computer systems and more.
  • In-flight data streams can inform on other conditions like rate of burn on fuel, weather-related data (triangulated with the aircraft’s current heading and velocity,) best altitudes for certain legs, engine efficiency and diagnostics and even act as the precursor to ATC at arriving airports for more streamlined trafficking.  Every interested party could tap into segments of the data set for relevant and actionable information.
  • Imagine – if the real-time data recording detects any glitch whatsoever, the awaiting airport can have the appropriate crews ready to remedy the problem and get the plane back in the air sooner than later.  That’s good for the airline, and for impatient passengers.
  • With big data providing in-air information, manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus can have access to a wealth of information about their aircraft, providing a post-sale, ongoing flight test to make longer-term observations and in turn, inform their engineering teams with an up-to-the-moment feedback loop.
  • With big data, we could probably streamline airport efficiency as well. (Yay!)

But mostly, the benefits of big data center around safety.  Big data is, at worst, informative.  And at best, it’s predictive.  If we could predict when issues might arise (even at the probability level,) we could keep pilots, crews and passengers safe, and probably avert any more, um, disappearing aircraft.

But why isn’t this done on a global scale?  There are drawbacks to such a proposal, to be sure.

  • Any system that can be built is eventually at the risk of being hacked.  Duly noted.  So we build in the world’s most sophisticated security (like every government/defense/space program has,) and find ways to packet, encrypt and protect.
  • There’s the sheer heft.  We’re talking storage in the yottabytes and a data center the size of Topeka.
  • This most likely hasn’t been done because it would be prohibitively expensive.  To the tune of tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars to craft, build, deploy and maintain a data system of this magnitude.  And then there’s the storage/archiving issue.

But think about it:  that cost could be amortized by every airline, manufacturer and aviation association in the world, and if it carries with it the promise of improved safety, greater efficiency, and predictive analytics, who wouldn’t be in favor of that?

We have entered the age of the Internet of Things.  Our homes are warmed by “smart” thermostats that are remotely controllable.  We have “smart” TVs and “smart” dishwashers and “smart” refrigerators to enhance our entertainment choices and the temperature of our water. So why not a smarter aviation infrastructure?

But who could build such a vast and predictive data center?  I don’t know for sure, but it might rhyme with Froogle.

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