Archive | February, 2009

DIY and other economic realities

26 Feb

In the midst of economic crisis, we don’t flaunt wealth or advertise luxury goods.  Instead, we emphasize savings and value.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about banks emphasize how solid they are,  and how some retailers like Walmart are running campaigns about saving. In fact, Walmart is currently running a commercial that talks about eating in as a saving strategy (and you can get all your ingredients at Walmart). And in today’s Washington Post there is an article that says Americans are doing more things for themselves, things they used to pay someone else to do.  Things like mowing the lawn, walking the dog, dying hair, and others. The Post reports on one retailer that is using the trend in its advertising: Target, with its “brand new day” campaign. Target’s advertising has consistently been cutting-edge.  In the ads, which you may have seen, against a catchy tune, Target shows you how several products it carries can be used to save money. It is clever and it is really responsive to the culture.

In general, advertisers are most definitely acknowledging the new economic realities. More and more I see the word “save” or “savings” in ads, across the board.  Big Lots is running an ad showing a couple who bought a dining set for a lot less than it would have cost elsewhere.  So basically the theme is you can save money but please buy from us.  I wonder what advertising was like during the Great Depression. It must have been similar, putting emphasis on value and savings.  If anyone has any examples, please share in the comments.

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A litte old-fashioned PR (for the airlines)

24 Feb

Yesterday was a good news day for the airlines, specifically for US Airways and United Airlines. Why? Because both apparently have engaged in some good, old-fashioned PR.  Both companies released good stories about themselves, that then translated into major and positive coverage. Just like it is supposed to be.

USAir posted a story about how it is going to bring back free soft drinks to its economy cabins as of March 1. The news was reported across the board, from wire services to the evening news. And, USAir released this out as a news item before it sent out a notification to its frequent fliers. The company was seeking to get as much good mileage as it could out of this trite bit of news.  USAir “admitted” that it miscalculated the negative impact of charging for beverages and that this negative coverage undermined its gains in on-time performance and baggage handling. I am sure it is also undermined employee morale as people silently shook their heads when asked to pay $1 for a cup of lukewarm, ill-tasting coffee on board.

United did USAir one better. NBC Nightly News ran a piece about how United is now really cleaning airplanes between flights, something that had gone by the wayside. The piece talked about a guy dubbed “Mr.Clean” who has a title something like Director of Cabin Appearance. The point was to show that United is taking steps to improve customer experience onboard its aircraft. Again, this is classic PR.  I am sure the airline pitched the angle that most airlines are filthy (they are)  because in these economic times, airlines are cutting corners on cleaning crews or the amount of times a plane gets fully cleaned. United is bucking the trend because United wants to enhance its passengers’s experiences. Here’s a link to NBC’s Daily Nightly‘ blog discussing the story.

Bottom line: A bit of positive news can go a long way. Proof positive that PR works!

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Frames of reference

23 Feb

Sometimes, when you are writing or speaking to a group you try to frame things by using examples or metaphors.  Nothing wrong with that. Except when your audience doesn’t get it.  The other day I was listening to a professor speak and he referred to the Iran-Contra affair. Nothing wrong with the example but it did not work as a frame of reference for the students, many of them born well after the time.  Or perhaps you use cliched expressions like “you sound like a broken record.”  Guess what–kids probably have never ever seen a record. In fact, I am starting to think they will rarely see a CD.  Lots of our jokes and references are generational–and we need to consider this as we try to communicate with the younger set.

Do you have good examples of generational frames of reference? Please post in the comments.

In print or online

23 Feb

A couple of weeks ago, The Washington Post decided to merge its online personality ( with it print personality by using the print Washington Post brand online.  The company had decided a while back to separate it online content from the print content although it was mostly the same. Now, it is definitely trying to make it all one.

I think  that in the next few month we are going to see changes in print and online newspapers as subscriptions go down and costs go up, as advertisers continue to dial down their presences.  Eventually, newspapers will have to deal with the fact that they are giving away all of their content for free online.  It begs the question of why someone should subscribe to the print edition.  Of course, some people do not have online access or simply prefer to read printed matter. But those people  are probably a distinct minority. Overall,  most people that follow news are online and comfortable reading news online.  The other question for newspapers is how can they make money from their online ventures? There is online advertising, but what kind of metrics are they giving their advertisers? With print, you have geographic based demographic information. But online, anyone can read the content on a site. What will this do to local advertisers?

Information dispatch

18 Feb

In case you haven’t heard by now, Facebook had silently changed their terms of service a few days ago and then, when caught by a media observer and reported all over the news, was forced to backtrack because of public outrage over the ownership of information.  What is interesting about this is that yet again, Facebook shows a complete lack of awareness about public opinion, and more importantly, how to handle such public opinion. It may have something to do with the very young, and obviously not media savvy, CEO Matt Zuckerberg.  Facebook is a new concept and a new company, and as such, does not have methods in place to disseminate information effectively to both its members and the public at large. It does not seem to understand that there is always someone watching and that you must have a plan to deal with issues as they arise.

Unfortunately, this is the second time that Facebook is being reactionary because of public outrage. The first was last year when it announced a rather invasive advertising plan based on various items on people’s  profiles, and then selling things to their friends based on those profiles. There was outrage over privacy. In fact, privacy seems to be Facebook’s Achilles’ heel. The company cannot seem to find the right balance between protecting its users’ privacy and the needs to grow revenue and membership.

It hurts any company’s credibility to have the media inform its customers of a change in terms of service. It hurts Facebook to have to retract and retrace steps. Many people are now confused about what is private or not private on their profiles.  It will cause some people to get off Facebook and others to change the way they use Facebook. In short, a failure to communicate clearly and directly has created a load a negative publicity for Facebook, and has alienated its core customer base.

I hope that this time Facebook reconsiders its public relations program, if indeed it has any. I would advise Facebook to hire PR counsel and to focus on how to best communicate with its public.

Energy (ad) wars

16 Feb


Ever since the steep rise in gasoline costs last summer, we’ve seen a steep rise in image/issue advertising from energy providers. What is interesting is that it continues, even months later. The big ones here are traditional oil companies like Chevron and Exxon/Mobil, the coal and natural gas industries  and nuclear energy. Steadily, these three are competing for attention, one has to wonder from whom and to what end. And of course, before I forget, there is T.Boone Pickens, the millionaire, who is self-paying for ads pushing wind and natural gas energy as a way to “stop our dependence on foreign oil.” Pickens is part of Clean Energy, an outfit promoting natural gas.

Chevron is running a campaign that is centered around the tag line “human energy.” It is designed to make gasoline look environmentally friendly (in fact,  that is exactly what all three types of energy want you to think–that they are the most eco-friendly). There are two types of commercial–one saying Chevron is a company concerned about the human race, and the future and another about conserving energy–for instance unplugging more. I am not certain who the target audience is for the campaign, nor am I certain the campaign works.

Meanwhile,  the Nuclear Energy Institute (I think) is running a commercial with the tagline “nuclear–clean air energy.”  In searching for info about the ad,  I came across AREVA (a nuclear company) that was running an ad campaign with the tagline “pure energy.” You see the theme here?

And finally, there is the omnipresent commercial for the clean coal oil and natural gas industry. You’ve seen it–a woman in a black pant suit is walking around talking about how we can tap our own (clean) energy resources at home. This commercial has been running fairly steadily since before the election last year, and still, I can’t find a link to it.  (If you can, will you send it to me or post in the comments?).  Of course, clean coal has come under fire, because apparently, there is no such thing.I saw the commercial again last night and saw that it is for the Oil and Natural Gas  Industry. The concept really is not about eco-friendliness but rather using American resources (you know, drilling more at home). It is quite anachronistic in a way because it has no mention or acknowledgment of the impact of the energy industry on the environment.

In the end, all some of these energy sources are trying to prove to us that they are the most ecological/green alternative. The gas/oil  industry is the one running the most scared. After the rise in fuel prices last summer, people made changes in their energy usage, and are now demanding fuel alternatives. So, gas has to position itself as somehow clean and friendly.

Do you find any of these commercials compelling or convincing?

How to not attract attention

10 Feb

If you are active in marketing communications, you  most certainly do want to attract attention for your organization or yourclients, right? Well, here is how NOT to do it:

1) Have a lousy website: The uglier the better,  extra points if it looks like it was self-designed, designed in 1995, or has a distinctly 80s look and it is 2009.

2) Never put out news about your organization. And make sure any news you do have on your website or other place is from two-three years ago.

3) Ignore social media, after all, it’s something the kids are doing, nobody serious. Who needs Twitter, LinkedIn, and all that stuff. Hard to keep up with all that stuff.

4) Never network. On the rare ocasion that you do wander out, be sure to forget your business cards and dress sloppily.

5) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Sure, it’s a great name for a book, it should be a great thing to do. Don’t spell check, or keep your phone numbers updated on your website, or let your memberships lapse, don’t pay bills…

5) Be rude. After all, if someone contacts you,  they shouldn’t expect a response, right?

How many marketers do you know that are dead-set on not getting any attention?