Archive | November, 2008

Reality versus reporting

30 Nov

Something very interesting happened this Black Friday…it went well for retailers. But it wasn’t expected to. The news media kept reporting that sales were expected to be lower, with fewer people shopping and shopping for fewer items. In fact, they reported this while they reported that people were camping out for sales and even that people trampled to death a security guard in their rush to enter a New York Walmart store. The final numbers are not in yet, but apparently, sales were better than expected and may even have been higher than last year.

This is interesting because a narrative has been formed in the media: economy is bad and people are not shopping, not matter what. Economy is bad,and people are not traveling not matter what. And yet, planes and roads are full and there is no parking to be had at local malls. Even my local bookstore was packed on Black Friday, even though they had no special sales.  In short, there seems to be a disconnect between what is being reported (or what reporters think) and what is actually happening.  Often, what is reported is not real but BECOMES real. In this case, it seems to be the opposite. I wonder if the panicked reporting about the dire state of the economy is partially a desire to create a black and white narrative or a true appraisal of reality. What do you think?

New selling points

24 Nov

The economic-banking-credit crisis has spawned some new advertising selling points and language for financial institutions. These seek to reassure current and potential customers that their money-investments-assets are safe.  For instance, SunTrust Bank is using a new tagline: “Live Solid. Bank Solid.” Obviously, solid is a good word to describe a bank, especially in light of recent bank failures. Bank of America, one of the largest banks in the US, is still going with the “Keep the Change” campaign, and a headline to their newest ad is “If you’re going to spend, spend smart.”

I have seen lots of ads featuring words like secure, safe, solid,  smart, trust and so on. It is not about high returns or great investments any more, it is about keeping what you have in an increasingly turbulent marketplace.

Meanwhile, Commerce Bank, which was a bank operating mainly in the Northeast, got “rebranded” into TD Bank due to a merger with TD BankFinancial Group of Canada.  Commerce, who used red as its color, is now green. The change was quite sudden and confusing. I am sure that current customers were aware of an impending change, but others must have been taken by surprise.

Publicizing your image

21 Nov

Nothing makes a celebrity like publicity. In fact, without publicity, there would be no celebrities. Yet, we often hear of scuffles between celebrities and the paparazzi or stars taking tabloids to court. Of course there is a not so fine line between publicizing and slandering, and anybody should be careful of crossing that line.  Some celebrities are known for being private (quite an oxymoron) and some for being rabble-rousers (Lindsay Lohan anyone?). In both cases, this is part of their carefully crafted public persona. They attempt to control the media’s portrayal of them, to suit their purposes.

In today’s New York Times, there is an interesting article about Angelina Jolie and her masterful control of the media.  Apparently, part of the negotiation involved in giving her twins’ pictures to People Magazine included a clause for positive coverage. If this is true, and People denies it, it calls to question whether People can be considered a journalistic endeavour or simply a celebrity publicity outlet. Chances are, it’s a bit of both. In any case, People would not exist without celebrities to cover and celebrities would not be celebrities if they were not covered. So, in a sense, People can’t afford to alienate celebrities.

I am not sure what I think of Jolie’s “carefully crafted” persona. In a sense, what she has done is rehabilitate her image through the use of new imagery (adoptive children from underdeveloped countries, nomadic lifestyle, Brad Pitt). Prior to that, she was a tattooed, blood vial wearing wife of Billy Bob Thornton. In any case, Jolie is a case in point, in that what the media show about you, is what people perceive you as.  A lesson that is good for all organizations concerned about image.

Fast food is healthy

20 Nov

As if. But MacDonalds, the king of marketing, would like you to believe so. Or at least it is trying to use mothers as emissaries for this message–they call it their “quality correspondents program.”  I am not making this up. It is reported in today’s Washington Post, and it is an attempt  to maintain already high levels of fast food consumption high.  Apparently, if mothers make the argument that french fries aren’t so bad for you, other moms will listen. And if moms think its OK, then kids will be free to consume the “healthy” fries. What MacDonald’s claims it’s doing, is making sure through this type of PR, that people know they are concerned with food safety and quality.

I have several issues with this. First of all, french fries are not healthy, period. They are deep fried and carry most of their calories from fat. It is inane for McDonald’s to pretend otherwise. Perhaps a small order of fries does not have the calorie content say, of a quarter pounder with cheese. If someone wants to eat fries, they do so because they enjoy the taste and not because it is a virtuous choice on the menu.

Second, this type of person-to-person marketing, based on manipulated information, is not what I would call transparent. It is surreptitious. It is pretend.  If a woman who is my friend or acquintance tells me something, I have no reason to disbelieve what she is saying. I also don’t have enough information. Lots of marketing shifts the burden for more information to the consumer, but this type of marketing is more opaque. Moms aren’t going to include a website link to the company, or are they?

What I really wonder is why McDonald’s needs to this at all. They are a ubiquitous part of the landscape, and everyone knows what kind of food they sell. Lots of people eat there–what are the up to, zillions served? They have great brand identity, brand knowledge and good advertising. And in a weak economy, fast food places generally do good business since they are cheap and easy.  No one goes to McDonald’s expecting fine or healthy dining. And as far as I know, everyone assumes you will have low-quality standards maintained across the board–clean and fast is what you expect, not high quality and good for you.

When does it become too much?

17 Nov

In the case of Verizon FIOS, about 100 million messages ago. OK, I am exagerating, they could have stopped at 1000. In all seriousness, Verizon is marketing the hell out of FIOS. They want everyone who has ever been near a Verizon phone to sign up.  There is TV advertising, telemarketing (these people have been calling my house at least 3 times a week for the past 8 weeks easily, even though I already told them I AM NOT INTERESTED) and direct mail. I get a direct mail piece from them roughtly once a week–whether it be a postcard or a full blown letter, like I got today.  What a great offer…they will bundle TV, Internet and Phone for $100 a month PLUS taxes and fees for one year (translation–you are locked in for a year no matter what and then your price will go up).  Still, I am not interested. I hate Verizon, and this marketing onslaught is making me hate them more. At some point, the costs outweigh the returns, and the many dollars they are spending trying to get me to sign up are ill spent, especially since, as I mentioned before, I AM NOT INTERESTED.  For anybody worried about the economy, I would like to point out that Verizon is both making money and spending money. They aren’t asking for a government bailout, they are asking you to upgrade to their system. Of course, Comcast, their biggest competitor in this area, has a similar package. And they also try like hell to get you to sign up for it. It makes me wonder how big those margins really are.  They must be really big for there to be a decent ROI (return on investment) on this.

Churches…advertising?

16 Nov

OK…now I have heard all types of advertising. I am listening to a rock station here in DC and a local church just advertised its “services” (almost a wordplay, right?).  The speaker (hard to say if it was the pastor) quoted, get this, the SPICE GIRLS (about stuff in your past). If this is not a naked attempt to appeal to a younger set, I don’t know what is. In any case, the speaker informs us that therapy and/or drugs can never help us get rid of guilt–only forgiveness can (of course one can forgive or be forgiven through the help of therapy, but whatever). And then, he tells us to go to a website to learn more.  Now, I have heard of membership drives and spreading the word, but I truly haven’t heard a church advertise on a mainstream radio station. This tells me two things–the church is seeking to increase its membership from a certain age demographic and the church has decided to do things in a more 21st Century fashion–get them where they are.  Interesting. I would be very interested in knowing if this type of appeal works. In theory, it should, at least stimulate some interest. I wonder if the church hired an ad agency, or a pr agency. This certainly is part of larger recruiting campaign.

It’s a new day

11 Nov

That’s the name of a new song by Will.I.Am (most clever singer name ever, IMO). But it is also a new day in marketing. Marketers are trying to find new ways of doing old things–that is, getting people in the door (and better yet, to make a purchase). A couple of stories in the Washington Post this week make this point. In today’s post, there is an article about a trend toward retailers creating an emotional connection with shoppers and also having gatherings in stores, to get people literally in the door. Although this is not new per se, it’s application is. It seems that generalized advertising is just not doing the trick. Marketers think that by encouraging positive contact and context, consumers will part with their money.

The other story (which I cannot for the life of me find on line to link to) is one regarding credit card and other offers by mail. It seems that, finally, issuers of these offers are cutting back. Although I do think that direct marketing can be a good way to reach a target audience, I think unsolicited and unwanted credit card offers do little more than sully the environment further. This trend has much to do with the availability of credit as well. The article also reports that Neiman Marcus is cutting back on its famous Christmas catalog–sending out fewer copies and making it thinner.