Thursday, December 16, 2010

10 Surefire Marketing Shortcuts

Life may be a journey, but we're talking about business now, where the shortest distance between two points is universally recognized as a straight line. We're talking shortcuts.

So as we wrap up 2010 and head into the new decade, I'd like to offer 10 surefire marketing shortcuts... for those who disagree with Chaucer's observation in the Canterbury Tales: "In wikked haste is not profit."

10. Skip the research. Surely your C-level executives have their fingers on the pulse of the marketplace; research would only muddy the waters.

9. Marketing plans are a huge waste of resources. You know what you want to do, so just get to it.

8. To paraphrase a quote from the novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, "Budgets? We ain't got no budgets. We don't need no budgets! I don't have to show you any stinkin' budgets!"

7. Traditional media is dead, long live social media. Open a Facebook page and a Twitter account and everything else will take care of itself.

6. Don't over think your marketing staff. This isn't rocket science; hell, it isn't even accounting. It's all about hiring attractive people who like working with people.

5. Never ever hire a branding consultant. Remember that the Nike logo was created by a graphic design student at Portland State University... for only $2/hour.

4. Publicity is a great and easy way to get FREE media coverage, and you don't need an agency to make media lists and draft copy and conduct media follow-up. Just write up your own news release and send it out over the free wire services... and watch the media clips come flooding in.

3. Thanks to fast and easy website builder programs, virtually anyone can create a great site in a matter of hours – even an e-commerce site. So skip the web developers, designers, programmers and SEO experts... it's just a lot of excess baggage.

2. Yeah, even in this electronic age, you still need literature, but you don't need to pay for overpriced services. Write it, design it and print it yourself. Branding is for suckers.

1. To be completely honest, marketing is the greatest boondoggle of the past century... well, next to banking (but that's a whole other list). Consider eliminating marketing altogether.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What am I Missing?

On the one hand, we are told that social media is the great equalizer, allowing citizens of the planet to reach out to one another and form new relationships and even networks and communities where truth, justice and the American way can prevail.

On the other hand, we are also told that "marketers" are grappling daily with ways to make money from social media.

And all these "social" citizens we read about? We are also told lots of them are wasting company time posting notes on Facebook and Twitter. Lots of them are watching YouTube and porn. Many of them are illegally downloading movies and music and video games.

Meanwhile, advertisers are popping up everywhere – breaking up the social media conversation as it were.

And it occurs to me that the social world on the Internet is a lot like the real world, except that it is easier to sneak around and hide your true identity online than it is offline. Everyone has funny names and uses image icons that are nowhere near reality. So what is going on here?

According to Merriam-Webster, "social" is marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with friends or associates. But that doesn't explain the high percentage of consumers (56% according to a Harris study) who said they had "avoided a particular vendor after reading negative comments about it via social networks." That doesn't sound very pleasant for the vendor.

Anyway, how do you know if the comments are true when they are attributed to NastyGuy792?

I guess what I am saying or wondering is this: Is the Internet and social media a great accomplishment or a great experiment? And if it's the latter, when will we know for sure if it was a success or a failure?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lebrons and Tigers and Favres... Oh My!

This is not what you think it is. It's not a post about sexual predators. It's not a post about out-of-control egotists. It's not a post about traitors. It's not even a post about society's need to idolize athletes then throw them under the bus.

How lucky are we to be witnessing the likes of three of the greatest athletes of all time... all at the same time? Think about it.

Brett Favre is arguably the greatest football player to ever live. The combination of skill and fearlessness have allowed him to play more games, make more passes, complete more touchdowns and win more games than one can imagine. Love him or hate him, Brett Favre is, has been and continues to be a thing of beauty.

Tiger Woods is arguably the greatest golfer to ever live. His focus, determination and physical strength have allowed him to hit the ball farther, close in on the green more accurately, putt more consistently and win more regularly than is even remotely reasonable considering the size and scope of the field today. Even now as he drags himself out of the downward spiral he created a year ago, he remains one of the most feared (and successful) competitors in the game.

Lebron is arguably the greatest young basketball player in the game today, and has the potential to be the greatest who ever played. His natural talent, physical strength and willingness to share the spotlight (and the orange ball) have allowed him to rise up to the highest level of greatness on the court – rebounds, assists, field goals, free throws. At 6'-8" and 250 pounds, he looks more like a ballerina than the towering brute that he is. And despite his recent "decision", he has proven to the world he is neither a fool nor a quitter.

And here they all are, performing their unique feats of magic, all at the same time. Even the non-sports enthusiast has to agree: "Oh my."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thank You... I think?

Thank you President Obama for promising Americans all kinds of relevant change and delivering more of the same. You told us to vote out of hope, not fear... I'm afraid we're still waiting.

Thank you big corporations for showing huge profits in the third quarter of 2010 and keeping it all to yourself by not hiring any new employees. The jerk store just called and there is no shortage of you.

Thank you big banks for living up to the reputation given to you by Frank Capra more than 60 years ago in his classic movie "It's a Wonderful Life." If George Bailey were still alive he would jump off a bridge.

Thank you terrorists for forcing an entire world to live in fear and anxiety while you claim to be acting in God's name. I am sure he will be proud of you when you finally meet.

But enough about the half of the glass that is empty.

Thank you mom and dad for teaching me the difference between right and wrong, for loving me in spite of my many shortcomings, for having faith in me and encouraging me to do good, for constantly reminding me that my responsibility in this life is to serve the greater good, and most of all for setting an amazing example by living lives that reflect your words. I love you both.

Thank you Denny and Patty and Brian and Kevin and Shawn and Kelly and Annie (my siblings) for always being there whenever I need you. You are a tribute to your parents and a constant inspiration to me.

Thank you Kathy and Matt and Crystal and Christian (my family) for loving me unconditionally and turning out to be such wonderful people. You are the reason behind my every good action.

Turns out Frank Capra was right.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We're Loud. We're Proud. We're Frito-Lay, eh.

I love Canada, and I love Canadians, but Howard Chimoff and Frito-Lay Canada are a couple of toque-wearing hosers.

As the story goes, not long after Frito-Lay introduced its annoyingly loud compostable SunChips bag, real Americans offered Frito-Lay an ultimatum: Make them quiet or give me back my old bag. It's kind of funny when you consider how loud we Americans tend to be in the first place. Anyway, after US sales dropped during the 18 months following the introduction of the new noisy bags, and after 50,000+ consumers signed up on the Sorry But I Can't Hear You Over This SunChip Bag Facebook page, Frito-Lay caved.

Our neighbors to the north, confronted with the same dilemma, did what they (and France) do so well, they waived the white (er, green) flag and embraced the noise.

According to Food Navigator-USA, "Frito-Lay has pledged its commitment to retain its 100 per cent compostable packaging for SunChips in Canada and now offers free ear plugs to anyone who finds the bags too noisy."

Canadian marketer Howard Chimoff has commended Frito-Lay Canada for being creative and staying the course. Apparently he is only too proud to wear the earplugs. After all, you don't have to listen to reason if you can't hear.

And somehow, someway, all of this makes me very giddy. I am proud to be a loud American who won't settle for the pablum some corporate behemoth tries to feed me. I am proud that consumers let their wallets do their talking for them and forced Frito-Lay's hand. And I am equally confident in the ability and resolve of Frito-Lay to figure out a new and quieter eco solution (and they'll probably jack up their prices in the process). By God, this is the United States of America – we're loud, we're proud and we always figure out a way to make things work out.

I love this country.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Don't Be Surprisesd When You Get What You Pay For.

How is it that a guy of my age and experience continues to be surprised by how many – and how often – otherwise intelligent and well-meaning marketing executives act thunderstruck by the cost of doing business in the 21st century?

And to be perfectly honest, I really don't know if they are truly incredulous or are simply acting surprised as a preemptive move to negotiate costs.

Imagine being willing to pay $8,000 (that's at a 12x discount rate) every month to run a full-page, color ad, but balking at the idea of paying a one-time charge of $3,000 (including copy and layout concepts, photography and print-ready art) to produce it. Really?

Imagine willingly shelling out nearly $100,000 to exhibit at a key annual trade show, but hesitating to invest $5,000 to support this investment with target marketing strategies designed to increase booth traffic, engage visitors and secure additional media coverage. Really?

Imagine wanting to see your product featured on multiple national TV talk shows (e.g., Today) and in national consumer magazines (e.g., Dwell) during the prime 2011 spring cleaning season for a budget in the neighborhood of $2,500. Really?

Imagine asking your agency to dramatically increase traffic to your website and improve sales conversions in the process through a strategically managed PPC program, but hesitating when you learn that the cost of managing the campaign is almost $500/month. Really?

I mean I get professional marketers wanting to squeeze as much value out of their budgets as possible. In fact, we even encourage them to set tangible, measurable objectives so we can determine if the results of the strategies we propose and implement justify the financial investments they make. That's good business.

But what are executives thinking when they expect professional services to be cheap... or worse, free? I suspect the problem lies deep within the boardrooms and executive suites where poor decisions are made about how much money should be dedicated to marketing the organization and its products/services.

My son recently reminded me – while we were discussing the merits of various cable/Internet/telephone service providers – that you get what you pay for when you shop for the lowest price instead of the best service. If you don't mind slow Internet speed and spotty cable, then take advantage of the low bundled price. If you want fast Internet speed and dependable cable, then pay the asking price. If you don't want to pay for anything, just ignore your current bill and see how that works out for you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I have been thinking a great deal lately about the state of marketing.

Maybe it's because we have come to the end of the first decade of the new millennium. Or maybe because Sweeney is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Or possibly it's because I can not remember a time in my 30+ years as a marketing professional when I was so confused about where the industry is heading.

And then I remembered something my wise hero Kurt Vonnegut once said: "We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."

Suddenly - in this context - the state of marketing seems less of an issue.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It Could be Worse. Oh, Wait, No It Couldn't.

When it comes to politics and elections in the year 2010, it is clear the new marketing credo is to muddy the waters until nothing is clear... or preferably even visible. Of course dirty politics is not a new concept. Hell, even filthy politics has been around for centuries.

But the newest phase of political campaigning – flood the airwaves and Internet with a tsunami wave of lies and innuendos until virtually everyone is gasping for air – well, that's new. Choking the life out of people until they are powerless to understand, let alone care enough to vote, that is a new low for the electoral process.

On the other hand, particularly during the economic recession, congratulations to all the media outlets – traditional and online – who have reaped the benefits of the deluge of ad dollars being pumped into their revenue streams for the express purpose of drowning out the truth.

Back in the '60s, Timothy Leary encouraged us to "turn on, tune in and drop out." He wasn't just talking about getting high, he was encouraging the masses to detach themselves from the existing conventions and hierarchies in society. Given the current state of political campaigning, a flashback may be in order.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

American Made. American Tested. American Approved.

So, Tuesday night I am watching Modern Marvels on the History Channel. The focus of this particular episode was on the world's sharpest swords, knives, razors, etc. I was particularly fascinated by the Cutco cutlery (which I have in my own kitchen drawer) and the process they use to test the sharpness and longevity of their products. It was a marvel.

Once upon a time in America, this was a big deal – to test your products and prove their invincibility. Cutco deserves kudos for maintaining its commitment to sharpness for more than a half-century. Today, most companies and consumers are merely concerned about whether or not products are tested on animals, which is all fine and good, but what about the product's efficacy and viability and durability?

Then I came across this story about Woolrich – another great American company that's been around for a very long time (180 years to be precise). They are iconic to outdoorspeople, especially those of us in the northern states who enjoy hiking and fishing in the dead of winter. You don't want your Woolrich, you need your Woolrich. But after nearly two centuries, you would think it was no longer necessary to test and prove themselves.

Apparently it is.

Woolrich, who first supported polar exploration in 1939 when it outfitted Admiral Byrd's third Antarctic expedition, which included extensive study of geology, biology, meteorology and exploration of the southern polar region, is once again venturing into the cold.

On October 2nd, Dale Andersen Ph.D., of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, departed for a three-month expedition to dive in remote lakes below twenty feet of ice to better understand how microbial life is able to exist in extreme environments on Earth. Along with his cameras and scientific gear, Andersen will be wearing and testing various Woolrich garments.

According to its news release, "Woolrich is providing Andersen with mid-layers, socks, headwear, and outerwear to use and provide feedback during this and future trips."

For the record, the annual average temperature in the interior of Antarctica is -50°C (-58°F). If Woolrich is good enough for Dr. Anderson below 20-feet of ice in this temperature, I am pretty confident it will hold up to the conditions on the Rocky River in the Cleveland Metroparks.

My congratulations to both of these American manufacturers for continuing to represent the best of what made this country great.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Heroes... Not Counting My Dad (Dennis B.)

When I was a kid, hero-worship was encouraged at home, at school and throughout the community. So it comes as no surprise that I admired, looked up to and emulated dozens of people who were heroic to me.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Edward R. Murrow, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, John Glenn, Mother Teresa...

I will admit it is an eclectic group. And it makes me question my own definition of a hero. Without referencing Merriam-Webster, I suppose the thing these men and women all shared was an uncommon courage and a conviction to a set of principles that I considered important: human rights, free speech, freedom, equality, peace, exploration, gentility and humility.

And I guess I kind of feel sorry for kids growing up today; sorry that they don't appear to have the same types of heroes to choose from. At the very least, it seems like the number of real candidates has dwindled. And I am reminded of the lyrics of a song written and sung by one of my musical heroes (Brian Wilson).

I was sittin' in a crummy movie with my hands on my chin
Oh the violence that occurs seems like we never win

Love and mercy that's what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

I was lyin' in my room and the news came on TV
A lotta people out there hurtin' and it really scares me

Love and mercy that's what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

I was standin' in a bar and watchin' all the people there
Oh the lonliness in this world well it's just not fair

Hey love and mercy that's what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight
Love and mercy that's what you need tonight
Love and mercy tonight
Love and mercy

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Marketing Carrots as Junk Food? Sounds Like Junk Marketing.

So a bunch of carrot farmers get together and decide to launch a $25 million ad campaign to make packaged baby carrots cool for teens. Sounds about right to me.

And here's the strategy: Position and market packaged baby carrots as a kind of junk food. According to the NPR report I heard and read, the marketing concept is to "colonize kids' brains with the idea that baby carrots are extreme and that the crunch is really awesome."

And according to the marketing expert at the agency behind the campaign, "it is a satire on [ads for Doritos and Mountain Dew]. It's like junk food advertising is a bit ridiculous, so let's have fun with it."

Okay, so I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this is an idiotic idea, the likes of which Wile E. Coyote might conjure up to catch a roadrunner. I am not saying it won't work. I am saying I see no foundation for investing $25 million into what appears to be an Acme-approved concept. I mean why not just paint anvils orange and drop them off cliffs onto unsuspecting teenagers' heads?

According to the story, "The carrot campaign also has a strategy to get bags of baby carrots into teenagers' hands easily via school vending machines." Seriously, these farmers are investing $25 million to promote carrots like junk food and put them into the junk food distribution stream via vending machines.

I just got one thing left to say about this: "What an embezzle! What an ultramaroon!"

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Have You Started Your Holiday Pre-Shopping Yet?

It's funny how behavioral change can just sneak up on you. Not just individual behavior, but societal behavior. And here we go again.

According to a new Pew Internet study, 58% of American adults now perform online research about the products and services that they are considering purchasing.

Of course, there is nothing new about "shopping around." I am sure we all have vivid memories of mom scouring the Wednesday newspaper ads as a prelude to her Thursday grocery shopping. And dad never bought new tires without checking the sports section of the paper for the best deals.

But this isn't a pure swap out. First of all, consumers are still referencing newspaper and magazine and TV and radio ads. In point of fact, consumers still spend more time watching TV and listening to radio and reading newspapers and magazines than they do on the Internet.

The behavioral change I am referring to has to do with the search process. Consumers aren't just reading ads on the Internet, they are going online to learn about the products they want, and find the best prices, and locate the most convenient stores (or buy it online) and discover what other consumers – or editors or bloggers – have to say about the product, and they even leave their own comments.

As if shopping isn't exhausting enough in its own right, we have now added a whole new level of pre-shopping activity (double ugh).

And what this means to the companies that make products, as well as the stores that sell products, is that you better catch up quick if you hope to satisfy the needs of the next generation of shoppers. Your web site better be occupied with tons of content – product descriptions, instructions, diagrams, photos, videos, testimonials – and interactive functionality and links to social network sites and easy to use shopping carts and store locators and on and on.

Because like it or not, the line at the cash register is now preceded by a visit to your web site (assuming your site is effectively optimized to achieve top search ranking).

Caveat venditor.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Shocking Revelation: Teens Talk More Than They Tweet

Kids rock. Kids rule. Just ask them.

As a dad of three kids (no longer in their teens) and having once been a kid myself, I can honestly say that I love kids. I love babies, I love toddlers, I love youngsters, I even love teens. Kids are awesome. They are full of potential and energy and promise. They represent the best of what the world is and what it can become.

So, I was intrigued when I read the Adweek headline: Teens Deliver Brand WOM.

Of course I hate the idea that our industry is actually stalking teens to determine their "purchasing" and "communication" habits. But we are a capitalist society, so what're you gonna do?

But what really got my attention, what really took me by surprise, was what this study found:

Despite teens' immersion in the Internet, the report says the vast majority of their word of mouth takes place either face-to-face (75 percent) or by phone (10 percent). Just 13 percent occurs online.

Wow. I am shocked. I am surrounded by teen nieces (no nephews) who appear to forever be on their phones calling, texting and checking Facebook (none of them tweet), and like most adults I figured that's all they were doing. Turns out I was wrong. Turns out my perception about social networking and today's teens was faulty. And I am happy to get hung up - or out - on this one.

As Lady GaGa says in the last line of Telephone:

We're sorry, We're sorry,
the number you have reached is not in service at this time
Please check the number, or try your call again.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Rules of Marketing in an Unruly Society

It's late (approaching midnight), it's Tuesday (a school night), and mom is standing outside the Game Stop store with her 12-year-old son to drop $60 on Halo Reach, a new video game that is rated "M" for mature audiences.

If that doesn't say I love you, what does?

Man, when I was a kid... never mind, I really don't want to go there. Nor do I wish to disparage the video gaming industry, nor do I wish to give parents a bad rap for spoiling their kids.

But it did make me wonder about the changing role of marketing in the new dynamic of the "family" of the 21st century. Let's face it, the shame and disgrace of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbirth came and went about two decades ago.

Kids are growing up today in a multitude of family configurations that defy description or understanding, let alone the type of stereotyping that marketing relies on to sell ideas and products.

Try telling a kid today that "this ain't your grandma's car." First of all, which grandma are you talking about, my mom's mom or my step-mom's mom or my dad's mom or my step-dad's mom or my new step-dad's dad's second wife? Secondly, one grandma is still in her 40s and has a kid that is younger than me, while my other five grandmas are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Thirdly, two of my grandmas live in Ohio, one lives in Las Vegas, one lives in Florida and the other one is constantly on the move.

I don't think there are enough psychologists or researchers to keep up with this situation. But as my dad used to say (I only had one dad), "If there's money to be made, someone will figure out a way."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blue Jean Baby, Gray-Haired Lady

A few years before the Internet and social media revolution, there was this other revolution that got its legs in the 1960s.

Referred to as the "age of youth," it was a time when more than 70 million teenagers and young adults rebelled against the conservative establishment (a.k.a. the man). It was a time of making love, protesting war, taking drugs, playing rock music and tuning out. It was a time of dramatic change, with war protests and racial riots and student shootings.

But after about a decade of revolution, sometime in the mid-70s, after the break-up of the Beatles and the end of the war, something unexpected happened. Suddenly the older generation (a.k.a. the establishment) started to come around, trading in their Brooks Brother polyester suits for blue jeans and t-shirts... smoking their children's dope... and letting it all hang out. And that my friend was the beginning of the end.

There is no better buzzkill for a youth movement than to have the older generation join the parade.

A new report from Pew Research reports that U.S. Internet users aged 50 and over have dramatically increased their use of social networking services over the past year. According to the data, 42 percent of users in that age group make use of services such as Facebook and Twitter, compared with 22 percent that claimed to do so in April 2009. Among that group, users aged 65 and over demonstrated the most significant growth, with twice as many using social networks in 2010 than in 2009.

In the words of Paul Anka:

And now, the end is near
and so I face the final curtain...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

When The Market Shifts from Value to Price

Once upon a time in America... consumers were so appreciative of the their new possessions they actually protected them from wear and tear. Who doesn't have at least one old aunt or grandmother who wrapped her new davenport (a.k.a. sofa) in plastic to preserve its life?

Welcome to the double-dip recession of 2010. Someday our children's children may look back at this time and recall how consumers were so pressed for cash and credit they actually... rode their bikes to work instead of their cars just to save on gas... clipped coupons before going to the grocery store... compared prices before buying... made sacrifices just to make their house payments... exercised to avoid doctor bills... robbed banks because the unemployment well finally ran dry.

For the record, I am rooting for a recovery in the economy, and I am pretty sure that a lot of other people are as well. Unfortunately, there appears to be a lot of writing on the wall resulting from a lack of leadership and a greed-centered business ethic that is global in proportion. I am very hopeful, though not entirely confident that the American will – the will of the people – can triumph as it has so many times in the past. Unfortunately those who are unaffected (the haves) don't seem to care, those who are most affected (the have nots) are almost entirely dependent on a bankrupt government, and those in the middle are struggling to survive.

This is not a pretty scenario, but not one without hope. What's the old American adage? When the going gets tough the tough get going. Well, I'm not sure what the plan is and I am not sure who I am following, but I am ready to get going.

At the end of the day, I'd rather sit on a plastic-covered couch than the space on the floor where the repossessed sofa used to be.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Marketing Manny

In the grand tradition of Alfred E. Newman, Manny is forever wearing that "what, me worry?" look on his face. And who can blame him?

This guy is arguably the biggest knucklehead to walk down the pike since Homer Simpson first appeared on the Tracey Ullman Show nearly 30 years ago. And based on their bank accounts, it is fair to conclude one simple fact:

Americans love knuckleheads.

Manny, who started his baseball career in my hometown has proven to the world that loyalty is nowhere to be found on his list of character traits, while cash is a prime motivator. He's played on four different teams while knocking more than 400 baseballs out of the park. He doesn't really care who he plays for or how long he plays there, he just wants to get paid. His field play is among the worst in the history of the game, as is his ability to simply make it onto the field. I mean this is a guy who disappears in the middle of an inning to take a leak... a guy who gets busted for taking female hormone drugs. He is a class A knucklehead who can rake all day long... and little more.

And the fans can't get enough of him.

Meanwhile, down in Tampa, where the Rays are battling it out with the Yankees for first place, fans won't even show up to watch their team. Cincinnati has the same problem in southern Ohio... and so does Texas and San Diego (Cleveland attendance is dead last, but for good reason), which gives me an idea: rather than allow the Black Sox to pick up Manny's contract, why not make him the league's designated hitter? Manny can show up in all the ballparks where equally pathetic fans will show up just to watch him do whatever it is that Manny does. He can be the league mascot on the field.

It's a thought.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How Much Would You Pay?

Hey, want to see the most disgusting thing ever? Seriously, something so gross it will keep you awake tonight? If so, click here.

Yeah, it's a mattress covered in bedbugs. Nice. It is the new epidemic. West Niles Virus and the Swine Flu (H1N1) are so yesterday.

Best of all, you need to know that these aren't your grandma's bedbugs, these are super powered gnawing machines that not only show up in beds, but have the ability to shut down movie theaters and retail stores (Victoria's Secret).

It is gross and nasty and it is happening everywhere. Fortunately, one company has a solution, and not only is it an effective solution (both immediate and long-term) against these nasty little nits, it is a green solution - safe to pets, people and plants.

ZymeAway, LLC has created a three-part solution (though you can buy individual products) consisting of ZymeAway All-Purpose Cleaner to clean and prepare surfaces, Bug-E-Spray to get rid of the critters and Bug-E-Dust to keep them out. Complete, environmentally friendly remediation. I know about this because I know the creator and environmental director of ZymeAway. He is an awesome guy whose only mission in life is to help people find a safer way to clean surfaces and "control" pests.

Of course you're probably thinking you will never need remediation, right? You think you're one of those clean people whose home is impervious to pests, right? Well think again. Bedbugs, like mosquitos and flies are equal opportunity pests, and they are coming to your town soon. The question is "what's it worth to you to get rid of them?"

There is an old Spanish proverb: "You can't have more bedbugs than a blanketful." Speaking for myself, a blanketful is one blanket too many.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Future of Marketing: Online or Up a Tree?

Did I ever mention that I am a family guy? Not a Peter Griffin kind of family guy or a Don Corleone kind of family guy, but more of a Mike Brady meets Tommy Gavin kind of family guy, which explains why I was visiting my mom last Sunday instead of lounging around the pool.

As I pulled in the driveway I was immediately struck by the image of my smiling nephew shimmying up a couple of elms in my mom's front yard.

"Uncle Jimmy," he yelled, "come here quick, I have to show you something. And get out your phone, you're gonna want a picture of this." What young Michael Santana lacks in subtlety, he more than makes up for in confidence.

And I was so pleased by what I saw.

At this particular stage in our social evolution, when children are actually suffering hearing losses due to a preoccupation with MP3 players, cell phones and video gaming, it is nice to know some kids still climb trees. And at this particular stage in our social evolution, when some people are preoccupied with saving the environment from humans, it is nice to know it is okay for kids to still climb trees.

Of course, Michael still loves his video games. Between climbs I noticed him hunched over and rubbing his hands. "Hey, Michael, are you okay," I asked, fearing he may have suffered a severe bark burn during his descent. "No, I'm fine," he assured me, "I just need a minute to reboot."

As my dad used to say, "All things in moderation."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

OMG, WTF, Maybe One Day We Can All Just Grunt... LOL

Big news from the District:

The Senate passed a new bill earlier this week. The HHFKA, which includes provisions FMI has sought to help lay the groundwork for a smooth transition for WIC customers to use an EBT card for their transactions. However, FMI was disappointed that the Senate cut funding to SNAP.

And this headline is just in from Ad Age:

APCO Comes Under Fire After HP CEO Resigns.

In the world of health news...

WHO says threat of H1N1 has passed, but H5N1 is still lurking.

I can't speak for anyone else, and maybe this makes me old-fashioned, but I actually enjoy reading words. Maybe it is a reflection of the cell phone, text and twitter age we live in, where characters are at a premium and speed is of the essence. Or maybe we are just getting so lazy that spelling out a whole group of words feels like an unnecessary punishment. But it really has to stop.

Last week, my son sent me this gem:

CDC began surveillance for foodborne disease outbreaks began in 1973; however, no SGA outbreaks were reported before 1984.

If you can tell me (without cheating) what an SGA is – and all suggestions are welcome and will be accepted – you will win the first ever TingFactor t-shirt award.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Music to My Ears

Imagine falling into two holes on the same day – both seemingly disconnected – and winding up in the same place when you finally land.

There are many key ingredients to marketing. But the one I like most of all and the one I am talking about now is clever.

Merriam-Webster defines clever as something marked by wit or ingenuity.

So I fall into the first hole upon arrival at work this morning. My old friend and partner in marketing (Neil Egan) put me on to his son's band – Me, D and the Machine. Before my feet hit the ground I was hooked on the raw cleverness of this band's sound. Love the music, love the voices, and most of all, love the cleverness.

Then I fall into the second hole. I am halfway through the digital files on the band's MySpace page when my son calls. "What are you doing?" he asks. "Listening to a young band that I really like?" I reply. "Is it Everyday Chemistry?" he questions. "Huh?" I verbalize. "You know, the Beatles album from the 1980s."

At this point I am tumbling deep into the rabbit hole, dazed and confused. Then Christian sends me to a web site aptly entitled "The Beatles Never Broke Up". And with my head still spinning I get to the site just as my feet hit the ground. And there I learn that in an alternate universe the Beatles never broke up.

I love clever.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Foursquare And Seven Months Ago...

About seven months ago I installed the Foursquare app onto my iPhone and almost immediately found joy in keeping up, sharing and competing with my friends and colleagues on this relatively simple location-based service.

I quickly earned 6 badges, including the ever popular Crunked badge (thank you Charlotte, NC). I was elected mayor and booted from office many times.

Foursquare was useful and fun.

Then the marketers showed up; to which I respond: Can't you leave anything alone? As a lifelong professional marketer, I get it. As a consumer, I don't want it. You can't do a simple web search anymore without being bombarded by a dozen advertisers who not only think they know what you want, but who openly lie about what they are selling. Virtually every free phone app is now funded by mobile ads that interrupt your activities. E-mail boxes are flooded with unwanted correspondence and inappropriate offers. In short, the virtual world has become a reflection of the real world.

And Foursquare, which connects the two together, is quickly succumbing to the marketing sirens. Too bad. I deleted my Foursquare app and am moving on to newer, greener pastures. My goal is to stay one step ahead of the marketers (even though I am one of them).

Honest Abe once said: "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." Maybe he was right, but I can't take one more today of advertising saturation... sometimes it's nice to simply be left alone with your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why is There Even a Question about Whether Social Media is a PR Function

In the words of Mr. T, "Quit the jibber jabber."

For more than 30 years I have listened to one stupid argument after another about who can and should do what in this industry we call marketing.

Only ad agencies should create ads, only PR firms should do publicity, only direct marketing firms should manage direct mail, blah, blah, blah.

Maybe someone should tell Tony Hsieh that Zappos should only sell shoes. Maybe Someone should tell Steve Jobs that Apple should only make computers. Maybe someone should tell McDonalds to stick with burgers and fries and forget the coffee business.

Here is my advice to organizations looking to hire an agency to develop and implement their social marketing strategies - whether you are talking to an ad agency or a digital marketing firm or an SEO firm or a PR firm: Do a little homework, ask a lot of questions and find out what the agency team knows.

I have a 33,000-gallon inground pool at my home, and you could fit into a thimble everything I know about pools. So I look to experts for advice. I talk to pool stores who have service teams, I talk to pool construction companies that have service teams, I talk to dedicated pool service companies, I talk to independent pool guys, and I talk to neighbors who have pools and manage them on their own.

I ask them about opening the pool and about closing the pool, I ask them about shocking the pool, I ask them about treating and maintaining the water, I ask them about the pool pump and filtration system... in the words of Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters, "I got a few thousand questions of my own."

I would never hire a pool service just because they say they service pools. And I would never not hire a pool service just because they also do other things. I hire the pool service guys who seem to have good experience, good ideas, and a good sense of what I want to accomplish. I also consider chemistry (not water chemistry, people chemistry) and references.

So instead of engaging in conversations about who should "do" or "own" social media marketing, engage in conversations with agencies about what they know and what experience they have and what their thoughts are and how their approach might be unique.

Find a fit and test it.

And if it doesn't work out, start over again.

And quit the jibber jabber.

P.S. If an agency team tries to dazzle you with acronyms, idioms and jargon, run (don't walk) to the next agency on your list. If they can not explain it clearly, they either don't get it or they are more interested in listening to themselves talk than they will ever be in meeting your goals.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Look at Me! Look at Me!! Look at Me!!!

Once upon a time, people became famous as a result of something they did. Sometimes it was something great. Sometimes it was something diabolic. But it was because of something.

Today, being famous is an act in itself.

And with all due deference to Andy Warhol, he was not even close with his 15 minutes of fame prediction. Today, everyone wants and has the ability to have a lifetime of fame (albeit dubious).

It appears we have become a Jackass society overrun with media whores who will do anything and everything as a means to become and remain famous.

Back in the 1970s, novelist Tom Wolfe coined the term me decade in New York magazine to describe the new American preoccupation with self-awareness and the collective retreat from history, community, and human reciprocity. In kind, I would like to coin the 2010s as the look at me decade to describe the new American preoccupation with narcissism and the quest to be seen, viewed, heard, recognized and acknowledged for being alive.

Never before in the history of our planet have so many done so little and expected so much in return. Look at me. Follow me. Friend me. Tweet me. Text me. Blog about me. Watch me. Listen to me. Validate my existence.

We can blame it on the media – both traditional and social. We can blame it on a universal religion that deifies fame. We can blame it on an internal and natural drive to be gods. We can blame it on a globally networked yet totally disconnected society of human beings who simply want to be noticed.

I have no idea what the true cause is, but for anyone who cares, here is what the smartest man to ever walk this fine Earth (Albert Einstein) had to say about fame:

It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Marketing to Consumers Who Lack Confidence

Who knows what to believe right now?

According to the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index,
“Consumer confidence, which had posted three consecutive monthly gains and appeared to be gaining some traction, retreated sharply in June.”

Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center states, “Increasing uncertainty and apprehension about the future state of the economy and labor market, no doubt a result of the recent slowdown in job growth, are the primary reasons for the sharp reversal in confidence.

Translation: A lot of people are out of work and even those who are working don't expect to see a pay raise this year (despite steady increases in the cost of living) and they are short on cash.

This is a problem. As a marketer, you either have to focus on the small percentage of confident consumers who have good jobs and lots of money OR address the masses with solutions to their money woes.

I was riding my bike past a Houlihan's last night (where you go for premium quality and style; fare that's at times familiar and other times adventurous and a laid-back modern setting) and noticed the following verbiage on the marquee: Mealio Dealio every night. I am pretty sure this is their way of telling the public you can stretch your dollar by purchasing a happy meal at Houlihan's.

And why not?

On the other hand, just a few months after enticing consumers to sleep in line outside for the privilege to buy the first iPad, Apple managed to get an even larger sleepover crowd to wait for its new iPhone. The price tag tag for both products? Apparently not too much.

What's up with that?

My point is I actually have no idea what's going on out there and I have no idea who to listen to and I have no idea what to believe. It's good, it's bad, it's getting better, it's getting worse, buy gold, build a 2012 shelter...

Maybe Bobby McFerrin was right:

Ain't got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don't worry, be happy
The land lord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry, be happy

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Truth vs. Honesty vs. Transparency

Back in the last century of the last millennium, there were these Iran-Contra hearings to determine if it was true that Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver North actually participated in the sale of arms to Iran.

It was a big political scandal that prompted lots of politicians and news hounds to point accusatory fingers at a lot of people. But Ollie North was the main subject of their finger wagging.

Of course, Ollie wanted nothing to do with the whole hearing and did his very best to avoid answering every question. And somewhere in the middle of this C-Span moment – exhausted from chasing the artful dodger around the room – some senator or congressman looked down at North and reminded him that the great thing about telling the truth was that you never have to remember what you said before... because the truth never changes.

Anyway, I read this blog post in Ad Age today about branding. In it, Jonathan Salem Baskin (global brand strategist and author) suggests the following: "CMOs shouldn't spin or parse the truth."

Really? Do you need a global brand strategist tell you that? Are you that simple? But wait, there's more.

Baskin goes on to say, "Perhaps CMOs would get a better seat at the executive table if they stood up for doing the right thing when nobody was looking."

Wow! I am speechless. The implications of this statement are pounding in my ear like the sound of 50,000 vuvuzelas. Either Baskin is an idiot or our industry is bankrupt of any intelligence or morality.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fuzzy Math and Goggle-Eyed Market Research Reveal Paid Search Truths

According to a new survey from the Direct Marketing Association: "Marketers are managing their expectations when it comes to paid search. Nearly half say their primary goal in paying for a paid search campaign is driving traffic to their Web sites, but only three in ten list generating a direct sale from the click as their principal desired outcome."

If your primary goal is driving traffic to a web site, you are either an idiot or a liar. Is Disney World's primary goal to fill their parking lots? Is Las Vegas' primary goal to crowd the strip? Was Lost's primary goal to get people to turn on their TVs?

But wait, maybe I just didn't understand the report, so let's enlist a DMA expert to explain:

“Paid search ads are a great way to drive traffic to your web site; and when a paid search ad is clicked on, it usually leads to a two- or three-step sales process,” DMA research manager Yory Wurmser said in a statement.

Yes, that is much better; clear as frog water.

It would appear, if you read between the lines and over the shoulders, that the DMA is saying paid search ads are not intended to lead to a "direct" sale, but rather an "eventual" sale. As if you would click on an ad and it would take you to a shopping cart ready for check out.

Or there is the possibility that the DMA doesn't know how to conduct and/or interpret market research. Or worse, they are afraid to embrace anything that is not "direct marketing." After all, according to this research, "Response rates for direct mail have held steady over the past four years."

Finally, the report states, "These results are part of the DMA’s 2010 Response Rate Trend Report, which is based off 473 responses the organization e-mailed during March and April." But I don't even understand this. Who completed the surveys... direct marketers, creative directors, mail room managers? And what is the margin of error with 473 responses; did they account for this in their results? And why are you using e-mail instead of direct mail?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

If You Optimize It, They Will Come... But Will They Stay?

Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come for reasons they can't even fathom. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Everybody is always looking for something. New shoes, old dolls, big TVs, small computers. And how do most of them look for these things? They get online, go to their favorite search engine (Google) and enter a keyword or keyword phrase.

And that my friends is the key and not so well-kept secret of SEO. If you know what keywords and phrases consumers are using to find what they are looking for, you can begin to optimize your web site to reflect their searches and improve your ranking. Yes, you too can wind up on page one of the search results.

This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.

Of course, as in the Field of Dreams, it is never quite that easy.

First you have to figure out what those keywords and phrases are (guessing or trusting your gut simply will not work). Then you have to apply them to your meta description and keyword lists. Then, and this is the truly scary part, you have to integrate these keywords and phrases into your web site content without bastardizing its intent and/or meaning (copy writing skills are required).

After all, while the goal of SEO is to get searchers to your site, the goal of the site is to keep them there, educate them, engage them, capture data about them and – in a perfect world – convert them.

So you need to understand how the process works, you need the skill and ability to identify target keywords and phrases, you need the ability to optimize your site and you need the ability to optimize the content. Sounds complicated, but it's really pretty simple once you break it down. And here's the best part: if you do it right (and don't skip or skimp on any steps), it actually works.

Ray. Ray. Listen to me, Ray. Listen to me. There is something out there, Ray, and if I have the courage to go through with this, what a story it'll make.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Five Guys + Burgers + Fries = Marketing Magic

Like many Americans wanting to be the biggest loser, I gave up on fast food about a decade ago. No more McDonald's Happy Meals, no more flame broiled Burger King Whoppers, no more Wendy's singles and chocolate frosties. I just quit.

And then along comes Five Guys Burgers and Fries. I had to try it. President Obama eats there, it must be good. And it was.

Fresh burgers made the way you like it, massive amounts of tasty fries and all the free shelled peanuts you can eat. And neither the wait nor the price is out of balance with the end product. But at the end of the day it is still fast food – still fried beef and potatoes – so why do I keep going back? Did I mention that I keep going back?

I have sworn off fast food and refuse to even fry foods at home. But at least once ever other week I find myself back at Five Guys for a small burger and a small order of fries (that I never finish). And I think I've figured it out.

Yeah, the food is good and that's definitely part of it, but it's more. The place is always clean; the floors, the counters, the tables, the cooking area – always spotless. The "five guys" who work there are always nice and friendly and sincere, chirping out orders and breaking into songs. In the meantime, there is always a solid mix of music playing in the background – not too quiet, not too loud. The place is always packed, but never overcrowded, and the wait is never unreasonable. And all the locations (I've been to three of them) are conveniently situated.

In short, it's an easy and enjoyable eatery. And in a world that is forever changing, Five Guys is one of those places – one of those experiences – you can count on for consistency.

And here is the marketing magic: I never heard of them before they showed up in my neighborhood. I have never seen a TV ad or heard a radio ad or read a newspaper ad or received a mailer. I have never received an e-mail or been to their web site, I don't follow their Twitter account and I am not a Facebook fan. I have not been tainted by outbound or inbound marketing in any way.

Yet I apparently am a loyal customer. Go figure.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Your Finest Box of Chardonnay, Please.

It ain't easy being a consumer or a retailer or a marketer; it just ain't.

Consider a recent study by researchers at the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences in Bordeaux, France. These scientists found that white wine loses its freshness within six months in PET bottles and bag-in-box packaging, compared with glass packaging. Red wine also fared better in glass bottles during the yearlong testing period.

I am guessing there are no more than three people in the world who are shocked by these findings... and that may be a stretch.

As you might imagine, the wine brands (no names please) who have shifted to plastic bottle and bag-in-the-box formats point out "the new bottles are lighter than glass bottles and also carry environmental benefits." Which is no doubt true, but does not address the claimed issue.

Best of all, the article offers no definitive conclusion. Which leaves me wondering: could something so simple as buying a bottle of wine be any more complicated?

Here is a test you can take at home: visit a local wine store or even the adult beverage department of your favorite local grocery store. Assuming you are not a connoisseur (and I am not) how would you decide what to buy? What do you even focus on – price, color of wine, color of bottle, shape of bottle, size of bottle, quality of label, coolness of name, type of closure, P.O.P advertising, an article from Food & Wine magazine taped to the shelf? Now add to to all this the new debate about plastic bottle vs. bag-in-the-box vs. glass bottle. Sheesh, this is probably why I drink beer.

Last weekend I found myself at World Market in search of a cheap Australian wine (Friday Monkey) for my better half. Of course they did not have it in stock, but they did offer to order it for me. Unfortunately she wanted to drink it that night, so we opted to roam the aisles. It was a beautiful experience; there were wines from all around the globe in every shape, size and color imaginable. I was mesmerized and somewhat smitten.

Ultimately, however, we acquiesced to the advice of a twentysomething store associate who suggested a particular zinfandel that he tried and liked last week. Interestingly the wine was not featured on an end cap or prominently displayed on a shelf... it was neither under nor overpriced... it was not a recognizable winery or product brand name... they were not offering free samples... and the label was ordinary at best.

But we bought it nonetheless and it turned out to be pretty good, which is more than I can say about the apparent value of marketing in the wine industry.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Live Together, Die Alone

Goodbye LOST... and thank you for a great run.

When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city
To see a marching band.

He said, "Son when you grow up,
would you be the savior of the broken,
the beaten and the damned?"
He said "Will you defeat them,
your demons, and all the non-believers,
the plans that they have made?"
"Because one day I'll leave you,
A phantom to lead you in the summer,
To join The Black Parade."

When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city
To see a marching band.
He said, "Son when you grow up,
would you be the savior of the broken,
the beaten and the damned?"

Sometimes I get the feeling she's watching over me.
And other times I feel like I should go.
And through it all, the rise and fall, the bodies in the streets.
And when you're gone we want you all to know.

We'll carry on,
We'll carry on
And though you're dead and gone believe me
Your memory will carry on
We'll carry on
And in my heart I can't contain it
The anthem won't explain it.

A world that sends you reeling from decimated dreams
Your misery and hate will kill us all.
So paint it black and take it back
Let's shout it loud and clear
Defiant to the end we hear the call

To carry on
We'll carry on
And though you're dead and gone believe me
Your memory will carry on
We'll carry on
And though you're broken and defeated
Your weary widow marches

On and on we carry through the fears
Ooh oh ohhhh
Disappointed faces of your peers
Ooh oh ohhhh
Take a look at me cause I could not care at all

Do or die, you'll never make me
Because the world will never take my heart
Go and try, you'll never break me
We want it all, we wanna play this part
I won't explain or say I'm sorry
I'm unashamed, I'm gonna show my scar
Give a cheer for all the broken
Listen here, because it's who we are
I'm just a man, I'm not a hero
Just a boy, who had to sing this song
I'm just a man, I'm not a hero
I! don't! care!

We'll carry on
We'll carry on
And though you're dead and gone believe me
Your memory will carry on
We'll carry on
And though you're broken and defeated
Your weary widow marches on

Do or die, you'll never make me
Because the world will never take my heart
Go and try, you'll never break me
We want it all, we wanna play this part (We'll carry on)

Do or die, you'll never make me (We'll carry on)
Because the world will never take my heart (We'll carry on)
Go and try, you'll never break me (We'll carry)
We want it all, we wanna play this part (We'll carry on)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pretty Pictures Leave Bing as Third Tier Search Engine

When I was living in Chicago, someone once told me that Cleveland was Detroit without the glitz. Being a Cleveland native, I was not amused, but I did understand. They were both once proud lakefront cities that rose up during the great industrial revolution, thrived mightily through the manufacturing base that settled there and are now mere shadows of their past... struggling for a new identity and a brighter future.

They would both like to be Chicago or New York, but they are not. They did not have the vision when it was required – some 50 years ago. They did not see the future until it had closed in on them. Oh sure, they tried to fix things. They voted in well-meaning government officials who promised change. They built new stadiums and entertainment venues. But in the end, they simply had nothing special to offer that one could not get better in Chicago or New York.

And that, in my opinion is the problem with Bing. Microsoft was late to the search engine party and when they finally arrived they simply tried to repackage Google and present it as something new, spending more than $100 million to convince the consuming public that Bing had zing.

But in the end, Bing still holds less than 10% of the total market share of searches. I wouldn't categorize it as a failure, but it isn't exactly a big success. Just imagine what might have happened if Bing actually came to market with something innovative... something unique... something of value.

While imitation may indeed be the most sincere form of flattery, it is rarely the best business move.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Remember When Fat was Fun?

The brilliant illustrator Rob Sheridan created Cereal Mascot Reunion a few years ago to show that "things are never as good as they used to be."

Apparently Rob is a bit of a psychic. Imagine the depression poor Cap'n Crunch and Tony the Tiger must be feeling now that the White House wants them banned from future marketing.

But hey, if that's what it takes to stop the runaway fat kids train, then so be it.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "A new 120-page report released Tuesday by the White House says food companies should extend their current self-imposed regulations to cover all forms of marketing to children, and food retailers should avoid in-store marketing that promotes unhealthy products to children. It says all media and entertainment companies should limit the licensing of their popular characters to food and beverage products that are healthy."

Finally, sanity reigns supreme. The chubby crisis is all but over. And it was so freakishly easy: Just get the evil marketers to kill off or otherwise transition their popular characters into health nuts and everyone will be thin and healthy. No more plump pubescents, no more obese babies, no more chunky children. Karen Carpenter would be proud.

Thank you Federal Government. Thank you White House. Thank you First Lady Michelle Obama.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Welcome to the New World of "InYourFacebook" Marketing.

The battle to ban corn syrup is succeeding – not in proving that corn syrup is bad for our health; there is actually little proof of that at all – but in scaring consumers and causing manufacturers to buckle under at the first sign of adversity. In fact, some manufacturers are so concerned they are going old school and replacing corn syrup with sugar – even though they know it is no healthier and it costs more to produce.

And how exactly did this happen? According to the New York Times, "What started as a narrow movement by proponents of natural and organic foods has morphed into a swell of mainstream opposition, thanks in large part to tools of modern activism like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and movies like “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn.”

If this is the true power of social media – to intimidate – it is time to disconnect or at least distance yourself from the Internet. Marshall MacLuhan told us long ago that the medium was the message, but at least TV and radio and newspapers and magazines were operated by trained professionals adhering to government mandated standards. In today's new world order virtually any inmate can run the asylum... and the general public seems to be okay with that. Or perhaps the Internet has simply made public what some of us have always suspected: there are a lot of devious people in this world who will use any tactic to get what they want (including social media). I believe Machiavelli talked about that at great length.

Imagine that a bunch of e-mails and Facebook comments and blog posts could actually convince big-ass brand name products like Gatorade drinks, Kraft salad dressings, Wheat Thins, Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Hunt's Ketchup and Pepsi and Mountain Dew Throwback to abandon corn syrup and replace it with sugar. We are not talking about tens of millions of protesters or even millions of protesters. In fact, no one really even knows how many anti-corn syrup protesters we are talking about. We just know there are Facebook groups out there like “THE BAN OF HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP IN THE U.S.” And based on the misinformation they are spreading, manufacturers are throwing in the towel.

Why? Because what these groups are saying about the evils of corn syrup are true? NO. Because these activists carry so much weight they could sink a brand powerhouse? NO. Then WHY?

“Manufacturers are tired of hearing about the e-mails, the 800-number calls and the letters,” says Phil Lempert, editor of the Lempert Report, which focuses on supermarket trends. “People don’t want it, so why fight them?”

Did you just read that? Did you comprehend it? This guy is saying manufacturers "are tired" and would rather just pay the kidnappers. Forget the fact that this is just a band of loudtalkers. Forget the fact that their facts are wrong. And forget the fact that it is more costly and just as unhealthy to make sugar-based products than corn syrup based products.

Since when did American manufacturers give in to the unsubstantiated rants of any consumer group, let alone Twitter and Facebook groups? When did businesses start allowing fear to run roughshod over reason? In the quest to protect their precious brands, companies are losing sight of logic.

Some could argue that in this age of digital media, perception is reality, ergo, we must act on what is perceived. I would argue that if the perception is based on half-truths and false information, you should stand up and fight for what you believe in.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Big Girls in Hot Underwear? Ma ma se, Ma ma sa, Ma ma Cacique

I said you wanna be startin' somethin' You got to be startin' somethin'

The problem with pointing your finger at someone is there are always three fingers pointing back at you. In this case, the three fingers are pointing back at Lane Bryant, the supposed innocent victim in the case of the rejected plus-size bra and panties commercial.

Don't get me wrong, Disney-owned ABC (Dancing With the Stars) and FOX (American Idol) are totally hypocritical in their unwillingness or lack of desire to air these savory TV spots.

In their own defense, a Lane Bryant source says,"They [FOX] wouldn't run the ad, but have you seen the Victoria's Secret spots? If you saw the Victoria's Secret spot and our spot, you'd see nothing different."

A spokesman from Fox said,"We didn't treat them any differently than Victoria's Secret." Disney owned ABC declined to make a comment.
Oh Mickey You're so fine, You're so fine You blow my mind Hey Mickey! Hey! Hey! Hey Mickey! Hey! Hey!

Much ado about nothing?

Not when you consider that Lane Bryant has conveniently avoided the obvious choice to hire the hottest, sexiest plus size models they could find to display their new line of sexy lingerie. Being a resident of the planet's fattest nation, I know what most plus-size people look like, and 99% of them do not look like these models... so much for Lane Bryant's honesty, integrity and transparency with their target customer.

How does the old saying go? There are lies, there are damned lies and there are TV ads.

You love to pretend that you're good, when you're always up to no good...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Marketers Counting on Consumer Vapidness

According to an article in Forbes this week, some pretty major marketers believe consumers need to turn the corner on the recession and start spending their money again.

"New ad campaigns suggest marketers are eager to shake off the gloom of tough economic times--and they hope consumers will do the same. While some economists aren't sure the tough times are history, advertisers don't seem to care. Companies are rolling out carefree ads that use humor, colorful images and upbeat language to get consumers to lighten up--and open up their wallets." So says the article.

Makes sense to me. Oh, wait, no it doesn't.

One commercial from BMW of North America tells anyone who will listen: "What you make people feel is as important as what you make." Huh?

"There is a market turn toward the positive," says Deutsch N.Y. Chief Creative Officer Greg DiNoto. "That's a smart marketing strategy for any brand when you're emerging from a recession. Brands need to be associated with winning." Okay, that actually does make sense... if we have actually emerged from the recession, which most Americans have not.

On the flipside, Hamish McLennan, global chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam, warns that many consumers and advertisers aren't quite ready to spend money again. "Most people are cautiously optimistic that it's going to get better, but we're not seeing precrash levels--and we won't for a long time," he says.

So, what's a marketer to do?

P.T. Barnum, the American showman and businessman, was credited (whether true or not) as saying that you will never go broke underestimating the stupidity of the American public. This camp believes there's a sucker born every minute just waiting to doll out its hard-earned cash. Benjamin Franklin, on the other hand is credited for encouraging consumers to be frugal: "A penny saved is a penny earned." Apparently not much has changed over the past few centuries.

One thing is clear: communicating with and/or marketing to consumers – whether the recession is over or not – is a good idea for any brand that wants to be or remain a leader in the marketplace. It's just a question of "what" and "how" you communicate.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Too Many Marketing Chefs in the Kitchen

How many agencies does it take to achieve an organization's marketing objectives? Is one enough? Is five too many?

There are ad agencies and creative agencies and public relations agencies and and digital agencies and social media agencies and SEO agencies and direct marketing agencies and on and on and on.

So what's a CMO to do?

In the case of SoBe, they decided to try something different. As an alternative to working with a single or primary agency that was doing a good job achieving awareness, but not getting the kind of engagement the company wanted (we assume this objective was identified), they decided to look for agencies (plural) who offered a different perspective.

Angelique Krembs, director-marketing for SoBe says "Going forward we needed to get to engagement. That's why we evolved our approach."

According to the story in AdAge: After a request for proposals went out late last summer, Firstborn picked up digital agency-of-record duties, while Weber Shandwick became PR agency of record. TracyLocke, a longtime partner of the brand, continues to handle promotion.

By all accounts, the hybrid approach is working fine so far. SoBe's agencies say the new model allows for a more-collaborative team effort and will give the brand a competitive advantage.

I guess... but I am admittedly hopeful and skeptical. My concern here is twofold. First, the idea of hiring multiple agencies to complement each other in a quest to achieve better results is not new. Second, it usually results in an epic explosion fueled by greed and egos.

In theory, this concept of "true collaboration" is an extraordinarily good idea. In practice, I have never seen it work. Best of luck to SoBe and its team of agencies; I look forward to seeing what the model looks like a year from now.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Seriously Dysfunctional Marketing

Hi, I am Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer who ever lived. I really screwed the pooch - literally and figuratively. I embarrassed my wife and my family and my fans and the PGA. I am sorry, please forgive me. Let's play golf... and just leave me alone.

Hi, I am Billy Payne, chairman of the Masters. I am ashamed of Tiger Woods. You disappointed me and everyone else. You are not a hero. The future will never be the same. Let's play golf... and make sure Tiger is teeing off late in the day so we can get some great coverage.

Hi, I am Earl Woods, Tiger's dad. I am dead; yet somehow I am on a new Nike TV commercial. Tiger, I am curious... did you learn anything? Let's play golf... or you're history.

Hi, I am Nike, a global marketer of athletic footwear, apparel and equipment that is unrivaled in the world. I make crazy commercials that make people think. I like Tiger Woods, so I just made a crazy commercial about him. Let's play golf... and buy more of my shoes and stuff.

For some reason, in the middle of all this marketing mayhem, I am more sad than anything else. Sad about what could have been and sad about what is.

And now, in the words of one of the greatest fictional athletes of all time, Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."