Hype Reaches New Heights

In yesterday’s New York Times, there was an article about the “Freedom Tower” claiming that, with one magic beam being installed today, it will become New York City’s tallest building.

Wow!  Isn’t that SO exciting?  Isn’t that a major accomplishment?  Isn’t that something that should be all over the news?

Actually, no.  It’s total hype.  Or to borrow my favorite new phrase from Tom Scott and his anti-Klout website Klouchebag.com, it’s total asshattery. And frankly, nobody cares.

So let’s explore why.

In marketing, celebrating milestones is very powerful, and can actually help in creating promotional punch.  Some brand-focused events are worth celebrating:  an anniversary, a milestone, a celebration of something or someone special.

Promoting such milestones can add color and character to your overall marketing plan.  Mostly, it can help you create discernible distance between you and your nearest competitors (or would-be competitors if that’s the case,) and importantly, it can create more top-of-mind awareness, even if it’s temporary.

But, as with almost everything in marketing, publicizing such an accomplishment doesn’t hold much weight if it doesn’t have an explicit VALUE to your consumer.  Seriously.  If the consumer is not at the very center of this milestone, then why bother?

Nobody cares if your millionth vehicle just rolled off the assembly line at your Alabama plant.  (Good for your shareholders, maybe.  But there’s no consumer benefit there.)

Nobody cares if you just flipped your billionth burger.
(Nice story for the trades, maybe.  But there’s no consumer benefit there.)

And REALLY nobody cares if your unfinished building is about to (technically) become the tallest in the city.  Especially when it’s still a construction site, is likely unoccupiable for at least another year, and is, oh, about 9 years too late to the party.  Nobody cares about that except maybe the developer who is hoping against hope to sell real estate on the uppermost floors or the mayor’s office that loves/needs a feel-good story about…actually, there’s nothing really about this building that makes anyone in New York City feel good.  Scratch that.

But the consumer (in this case we’ll identify the consumer as two groups:  the New York City area residents who are still rocked and spooked by what happened down there more than 11 years ago, and potential renters/leasers of the office space being created in that building,) could really care less.  First off, we’re measuring the top of this construction site against the top of the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  So, in that case, using this logic, with the shoes I’m wearing today, I’m actually one inch taller than the 6’ 11” New York Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire.  (Top of my head to bottom of his goatee.  Whatevs.)

Let’s face it, The Freedom Tower is an epic fail of skyscraper proportions.  It’s a trite name.  (It’s so lame, they’re quietly going about a re-branding–before it even opens–to One World Trade Center.) It’s got trite features (including ultimately standing at 1776 feet tall upon completion of the spire. More on that in a moment.)  In response to the devastating attacks of September 2001, it’s a towering symbol of cowardice and compromise.

Now on the topic of height, if you really look under the hood, the building itself isn’t really that tall.  The spire/needle thingy that will top the building is 408 feet tall (that’s 40 stories, kids.)  An article on the AP website gives you some more background on this topic.

Here’s a rule of thumb: don’t bother promoting an anniversary, a milestone, an anything unless it has a built in BENEFIT to your consumer.  Celebrating your 100 year anniversary?  Nobody cares, unless you’re giving me a $100 rebate on any purchase of a major appliance.  Now the leading provider of toner in the laser printer category?  Great – but only if you send me my next refill for free.  And so on.  (I know I’m just using retail promotion examples, but you could do something good for the environment; something cool for charity; something that makes me think more highly of the brand and reminds me why I might prefer it.)

I once wrote that a marketing “gimmick” is something that focuses on the marketer and not the consumer.  And that’s exactly what’s going on here.  If you run a brand (a restaurant, a credit card, a line of clothing, a piece of technology, a building…just about ANYTHING,) keep the focus on your consumer.  Especially when it comes time to celebrate.  Otherwise, it may be the last milestone you promote.

Article first published as Hype Reaches New Heights on Technorati.

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Sex Sells, But Who’s Buying THIS?

This post is a review of the latest commercial spot for Clorox brands’ Liquid-Plumr Double Impact Snake and Gel System.  The product is a 2-task clogged drain treatment that includes a small plastic snake to first remove impacted sediment, then a liquid gel to dissolve the rest of the impediment. (Say THAT 10 times fast.)  The snake and the gel come blister packed in one package. The spot is from DDB San Francisco.

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As much as I hate to admit it, I love this spot.  I submit that it’s sexist, and in poor taste, and overtly references hardcore porn, but it’s done in pure camp style, and that’s the rub.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)  It’s a joke, and the advertiser has let us in on it right at the outset of the spot.

If you haven’t seen it, let’s dispense with that.  Click below and enjoy the next 60 seconds.

Okay, so the first thing you notice is this wonderful actress and her clearly over-the-top acting.  We know in the first three seconds that she’s totally goofing, and the dream sequence that follows is equally tongue in, er, cheek.  (Can I say that?)

So let’s play conservative politician for a minute and discuss what’s wrong this spot.  Yes, it’s WAY over the top.  If you’re going to borrow a porn reference for the camp factor, great.  Cue the 70’s funk soundtrack.  Get the Barry White voiceover.  Maybe even do the overt undo-your-pony-tail-and-lick-your-lips thing (which is hysterical in this performance.)  But to borrow a reference like “double impact?”  There’s way over the top, and then there’s way over the top, through the ceiling and out of the building.

The other issue with borrowing that reference (which I WON’T describe in any detail – look it up yourself,) is that it seems like, for most women that this actress identifies [I got stay-at-home soccer mom or maybe working mom who’s clearly repulsed–in a curious, grossed out sort of way–by even the name of the product,) the idea of the hardcore reference is really left field and really unappealing.  It’s not something a little risqué like doing it in the car, or in a public place.  For most women, this is not a “well, maybe I’d try that once,” it’s a No Way. Never.  Nuh, uh.

So in that sense, I don’t quite get it.

Having said that, it’s executed really well.  She’s standing in the plumbing and home cleaners aisle in the supermarket, and gets lost in this fantasy with two strapping men who arrive at her door to service her completely.  “I’m here to snake your drain,” says the well-bicepped young man (not unnoticed is that he’s gently stroking the snake.)  She’s already woozy. And before she can even compose herself, hunk #2 shows up with “I’m here to flush your pipe.”  She giggles, almost anesthetized, “..huh, uh, okay.”  Again, I can not understate the value of this actress’ performance…she is KILLING it!

Then we get to the really well-done product demonstration.  We cut from video to some smart, well-executed motion graphics, and then back to video as that deep-throated (sorry) VO gives us the product features (“…and a powerful gel to finish off the rest, baby.”  Classic!)

And then in an instant, she snaps out of her sexy daydream and realizes she’s standing in the supermarket.  [Great cinematic work here too…the lighting is suddenly harsh…the clothes go back to ordinary and drab colors…her glasses and her hair are competing for most disheveled accessory…) She glances over at the deli guy (slicing meat) and then a produce worker, (holding some healthy melons) and it turns out they’re the hunks in her daydream.  Both empowered by her ability to entertain this fantasy and equally shocked by it, she clumsily turns her cart around and flees the scene…but NOT before grabbing an additional TWO packages, just in case the, um, urge, hits again at home. (Nice going, Clorox…sneak in a little serving suggestion of buying multiple packages.)

So this ad goes right to the edge of good taste then takes a giant leap PAST that edge.  But it does so with so many elemental factors and advertising conventions intact, it works and entertains and educates all at once.  If you don’t get that it’s a joke, your name is likely Rick Santorum, and you’ve actually watched porn with a “double impact” scene and are repulsed that you liked it – all 17 times.

If you do get it, you recognize that, while it’s a pretty big leap and a pretty big borrow from a pretty dark porn place, it’s a really strong piece of advertising.  And it’s no surprise that it’s gotten more than 1.6 million views (at the time of this writing) on YouTube.  We could explore another whole post on THAT value alone.

Distribution: The Inconvenient Truth for Brands

marketing thingy blog image - distribution

I was having a conversation recently with a woman who is SERIOUS about fashion. She dresses impeccably, and cares pretty deeply about the name on the tag inside every skirt, blouse and shoe she wears. I posed a question: “what if you could get (insert uber brand here, like Christian Louboutin, for instance) at a discount retail outlet like Costco? Would you do it?”

She shot back: “NO WAY.”

Now, pardon the “focus group of one” here, but this seemed to shed some light on an interesting sub-topic of marketing, which seems especially important considering it also impacts one of the four cornerstones of our entire industry.

As our conversation went on, it turned out that even a significant savings of 10-15% wouldn’t be enough to convince her to go to a discount retailer for the toppermost brands she so covets. She also believed that most people (men AND women) who are serious about fashion would agree.

As it turns out, “where” may be as equally important as “what” when it comes to the experience of brands, and not just fashion brands. Distribution strategies (also known as “Place” in marketing 101) help consumer brands reach customers, typically creating a factor of convenience or an experience of excellence, depending on the brand and the target audience. But this paradox seems to touch so many aspects of marketing, such as price, product, place, brand ethos and even consumer perceptions. Let’s examine.

The Price Question
Many brands are sold at retail outlets and also online through many e-tailers, which may include the brand’s own website. (This is true in almost every category: fashion, appliances, electronics, home goods, food and beverage, health and beauty, etc.) In some cases, price shopping is a driving factor. In other cases, it’s not. Some brands don’t discount because they built their brand to own the high price position, or (with a case like Apple) the prices are simply non-negotiable. (You can’t get a “cheaper” iPod anywhere – the prices are fixed.) So unless the price is steeply discounted for a brand at one outlet over another, the consumer will likely choose to shop at a distribution point (online or offline) that is either a.) convenient or b.) preferred.
So, regarding price, the distribution strategy matters.

Brand and Perception
For a high-end brand (like Louboutin,) there is a perception that it can’t possibly be sold at places other than the most selective boutiques. That’s part of the brand’s equity. But for mass market brands, and even discount brands, the locations still have to match up with the brand personality. The distribution center, then, becomes a very important aspect of building the brand. (You won’t hear THAT much from your agency!) It’s just as weird to find Louboutin in Costco as it is to find Wrangler or Lee jeans at Nordstrom. It’s just a disconnect that can impact the brand, and for that matter, the brand perception of the retailer, too!

Note: In other cases, the brand and the distribution center are inextricably linked to cement the brand and its perception. Think Old Navy.
So, regarding brand perception, the distribution strategy matters.

The Consumer Experience
Finally, in some cases, the consumer experience gets folded into the overall brand offering. If you’re a high end fashion brand, you want to manage the entire experience of how the consumer goes about acquiring their next piece of your clothing: the way the store looks, the way the salesperson greets and works with the consumer, the fitting room experience, the checkout and most certainly the bag or packaging she’ll walk out of the store with. (Note, this is different than product packaging, which is a discipline unto itself.)
So, as it turns out, where DOES matter to consumers, across almost all points of concern.

It’s time for more marketers and agencies to get with this inconvenient truth, and start building brands to include the distribution ecosystem as a key brand building block and cornerstone of brand maturity.