9/09/2010 / Labels: ,

Unsocial media.

The social media convoy meets a few potholes in the road.

Every thirty seconds or during the morning, our cell phones buzz with a new message--a tweet from a news source, a Facebook update from a client, a text message from someone else.

By midmorning, social media triage is in play, and only messages regarding business, the day's activities, and The Onion headlines are read, because it's impossible to keep up with everything else.

Apparently, we're not alone.

Granted, while not power social media users, we do keep up with a broader spectrum of sources than many people, as part of our fascination with this communications tool. But as social media grows, it's starting to inherit some of the same dilemmas as more traditional media, including message overload, spammer abuse, and user fatigue.

Twitter's user dropout rate from month to month hovers near 60%, according to Nielsen, bringing its long-term growth into question. (Facebook and MySpace have around 25-30% dropouts.) Hacker and spam attacks on Facebook are expected to more than double in 2009, and the network is scrambling with new privacy tools to counter this. User complaints about “social network marketers” hitting them with blatant product or service pitches are also on the rise.

And some marketing firms are now being outed for faking user reviews of products on behalf of their clients.

All this complicates the use of social media for marketers. Our analyses of social media advertising indicate that it doesn’t yet to the job. We strongly advocate the use of social media tools for news and relationship building. However, we think it’s more important than ever for marketers to be diligent about how they use social media. Here are the musts:

1. It’s about relationships.

This is first and foremost. People must connect with you or your brand in some way. For enthusiast-type products, this is easier than for goods or services that don’t create an emotional attachment.

One of the most surprisingly effective social networking efforts belongs to the people whose product name epitomizes bad internet practice: Spam. Visit the Hormel website for Spam, and you’ll find recipes, games, history and a carefully organized and thorough information source for the canned meat. Visit the brand’s Facebook page, and you’ll see consumer testimonial after testimonial celebrating the concoction of pork shoulder and ham.

Spam has more than 17,000 Facebook fans.

2. It’s about news.

We’ve seen numerous successes where marketers report on an event (or sometimes create one) that involves their brand. In this context, they get acceptance, because the news is valuable to the reader. News (or quality content) also gets you acceptance for an occasional promotional message (don't overdo it though).

3. There are strict rules.

A social network is its own society. There are rules of decorum. Break the rules and there can be serious consequences. For example, numerous bloggers (including Ad Age) recently crucified a PR agency because a staff member sent a blanket e-mail promoting a client product to a list of journalists, copying the addresses into the cc field of the e-mail rather than the bcc field. Every addressee could see everyone else on the list, and replies came back to the entire list of reporters. Before the end of the day, many were calling for the agency to be shut down. That seems a little extreme, but make a mistake in an instant message world, and everyone knows about it quickly.

Much more egregious is the video game pr firm that was caught promoting to a prospective client that it has banks of interns who cover the web giving new client games favorable reviews as independent consumers—sometimes before they could have actually gone out and purchased the games in stores. Again, there have been calls for this shop to be shut down, in this case, with cause.

4. If you break a rule, don’t rationalize, apologize.

If fellow networkers think you’re trying to make an excuse, you get raked over the coals again and you call more attention to your gaffe through a new round of blog and status posts. Apologize, explain the measures you’ve taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and provide the content that rebuilds your credibility.

5. Expect more clutter. Which demands more diligence on your part.

The buzz about social networking for marketers is that it’s fast, easy, and cheap. It may turn out not to be any of these, but with everyone jumping on, expect social networkers to become less and less tolerant of blatant sales pitches and more wary even of the marketers who are approaching the medium properly.

To learn more about how to avoid the social media holes in the road, click here.

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8/17/2010 / Labels:

Testimony to testimonials.

Customers may be less likely to listen to you right now. But they're still listening to their peers.

We've written about the power of testimonials before. But now is a good time to revisit the number of ways this type of direct--and indirect--support can be used.

Buyers are particularly wary in this market, because they're being especially careful about parting with their money. They're also being bombarded with more than their share of too-good-to-be-true offers.

There are plenty of desperate advertisers, and many of them are starting to sound desperate--and subsequently, unbelievable. But customers are still listening to one particular group: themselves.

Buyers for both BtoB and consumer products have unprecedented access to peer opinions and reviews, and they're taking full advantage of all resources before making buying decisions. Especially if they think a deal might be a little too good.

So this is a good time to again embrace one of the perennial tools for marketing communications--the customer testimonial. For a good primer, see our previous post, "Customer Spokespeople--The Power of Testimonials."

Since we posted this story almost two years ago, we've made note of some other factors worth considering. Subscription rating services like Angie's List are now large enough in some areas to have impact, (See Angie's List coverage by city here), but they themselves have been subject to reviews and praise or criticism themselves, either for their policies of putting contractors who pay at the top of their lists or from businesses suing because they received bad ratings. Other free services like Kudzu may not have enough comments in a market to be considered credible yet.

So while there are thousands of discussions going on among consumers (especially in enthusiast forums) where you can receive positive reviews, it's still pretty much up to marketers to solicit, gather, and promote good comments they receive. The uses for testimonials are numerous:

1. Websites. A no-brainer. If customers have taken their time to compliment your company, those comments need to be online. And you should include a mechanism for feedback so others can comment. Keep the conversation going.

2. Ads. Our "Customer Spokespeople--The Power of Testimonials" article addresses this in detail. Testimonials can be effective as both primary and secondary elements (think movie reviewers comments at the bottom of the ad for a new flick), and having the right strategy can maximize their impact.

3. Public relations. Testimonials can work in several ways for publicity. If you're introducing a new product or a change on an existing one, including testimonials certainly adds credibility. But you can also use them to distinguish one particular product benefit from those of competitors, to suggest new product uses, or to even refute negative perceptions. Years ago, McCullough chainsaws changed consumer opinions that their saws were hard to start by using testimonials and live events at festivals and shows where individuals participated in a challenge to get a saw to start on the first pull.

There has also been some new research on how testimonials influence people to buy. A study by Brett Martin, Daniel Wentzel, and Torsten Tomczak published in the March 22 2008 issue of the Journal of Advertising reported that different types of people are predisposed to react very strongly to testimonials or to have secondary interest in them. The research addressed individuals' susceptibility to nominative influence (SNI), or how much individuals feel to need to conform to others, to be accepted socially, or to enhance their own image through products or brands.
The research found that people who have a high level of SNI are especially likely to react to testimonials. People with low levels would focus less on the individual and more on the product attributes being discussed.

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6/14/2010 / Labels: ,

Do The Classic Ad Books Still Matter?

Confessions of An Advertising Man by David Ogilvy.

Even though David Ogilvy worked as a researcher before founding his agency, Confessions of an Advertising Man, relies much more on his opinions than on observable data. Of course Ogilvy, not a person hobbled by excessive modesty, thought his opinion was far more authoritative than mere facts.

Like Claude Hopkins and Rosser Reeves, Ogilvy was a copywriter (and, like Reeves, an agency head). And also like Hopkins and Reeves, he wrote his book as a publicity and sales tool for his agency and himself. Like them, he included long lists of rules for effective advertising. Some are wonderfully self-serving--such as advising clients to "Make sure your agency makes a profit."

But, self-serving or not, Ogilvy's rules for being a good client and for creating a great campaign are as valid today as they were when Confessions of an Advertising Man was published in 1963. Here are the lists without the pages of explanation each got in the book (with a little amplification when the meaning isn't immediately clear):

How To Be A Good Client:

1. Emancipate your agency from fear.
2. Select the right agency in the first place.
3. Brief your agency very thoroughly indeed.
4. Do not compete with your agency in the creative area.
5. Coddle the goose who lays the golden egg. (provide enough time and resources to do the job well.)
6. Don't strain your advertising through too many layers.
7. Make sure your agency makes a profit.
8. Don't haggle with your agency.
9. Be candid and encourage candor.
10. Set high standards.
11. Test everything.
12. Hurry. (Profit is a function of time.)
13. Don't waste time on problem babies (Back your successes and abandon your losses.)
14. Tolerate genius.
15. Don't under spend. (The surest way to overspend on advertising is not to spend enough to do the job properly.)

How To Build Great Campaigns:

1. What you say is more important than how you say it.
2. Unless your campaign is built around a great idea, it will flop.
3. Give the facts. (The consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything.)
4. You cannot bore people into buying.
5. Be well-mannered, but don't clown. (You should try to charm the consumer into buying.)
6. Make your advertising contemporary.
7. Committees can criticize advertisements, but they cannot write them.
8. If you are lucky enough to write a good advertisement, repeat it until it stops pulling.
9. Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your own family to read.
10. The image and the brand. (Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image.)
11. Don't be a copy-cat.

Ogilvy's rules on specific techniques for crafting ads and commercials have had mixed success at surviving the passage of the forty-six years since Confessions of an Advertising Man was published.

Some still work:

1, Every headline should appeal to the reader's self-interest.
2. Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.
3. Don't be a bore. Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.
4, Readership falls off rapidly up to fifty words of copy, but drops off very little between fifty and 500 words.
5. Twice as many people read captions as read body copy.
6. If you start your body copy with a large initial letter [Note: what we call a drop cap today] you will increase your readership by an average of 13%.
7. Photographs sell more than drawings.

Some don't:

1. When you advertise in magazines and newspapers, you must start by attracting the reader's attention. But in television the viewer is already attending [paying attention]. (We wish.)
2. Always try to inject news into your headlines, because the consumer is always on the lookout for new products, or new ways to use an old product, or new improvements in an old product. (Not is this era of information overload and surfeit of choices.)
3. Resist the temptation to write the kind of copy which wins awards. (Bob Isherwood, worldwide creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, commissioned research which showed that award-winning advertising is significantly more effective than the dull stuff.)
4. Good copywriters have always resisted the temptation to entertain. (One look at the awareness numbers of Super Bowl commercials makes it clear that entertainment value and awareness/preference track very closely today.)
5. [In television advertising] Words and pictures must march together, reinforcing each other. (Today pictures are frequently used to make an emotional connection while words carry a simple sales message.)
6. Don't sing your selling message. (We did a health insurance campaign that increased awareness 600% and revenues 44% by singing the main message.)

All in all, a much more than respectable percentage of the maxims in Confessions of an Advertising Man are still good guides for agencies and clients. And the book is still a good read.

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5/17/2010 / Labels: ,

Switching Sides

A study from Neurofocus says up to 75% of information has been organized wrong. 

We came across a remarkable study from a California-based firm called Neurofocus.  The study analyzed how our brains interpret and process information, and why simply switching placement of graphics and text on a page can have a profound impact on how material is absorbed.

We were intrigued.  We investigated further.  And what we found made us change how we do things.  We thought this information so significant that we even re-designed our website based on what we learned.

Neurofocus’ research has attracted the attention of some key heavy hitters.  Nielsen, considered one of the most conservative research companies in existence, has made a significant investment in the company.  A number of Fortune 500s are using its techniques with success.  And more are lining up.

The company gathers information using eye-tracking, galvanic skin response (GSR) data, and EEGs (electroencephalography).  Neurofocus analyzes a variety of variables, such as placement of images versus placement of text; motion and animation; and different advertising models.  Test subjects view material on a variety of screens, ranging from plasma TVs to cell phones to YouTube video windows.  Subjects were segmented based on age and gender because of biological differences in the brain.

But what’s particularly interesting is that the neurological research seemed to supersede difference in testing caused by demographics or culture.  Neurological responses recorded for English speakers matched those of Hispanic audiences, for example.  And the research demonstrated that cultural and demographic cues in conventional research can sometimes throw off the results.

In a number of comparisions of ads analyzed with Neurofocus’s approach and with traditional research, the Neurofocus people were able to match effectiveness predictions with conventional research.  In one instance, the company advised a major financial firm to use one of six ads in a test series.  The CMO of the firm noted that conventional testing indicated the ad was the “most mediocre” of the group.  But when it ran, it generated more response than any of the others.

What’s also interesting is that the neurological research can be done with much smaller test groups—10 or 20 people rather than hundreds, or in some cases, thousands.

The research doesn’t just apply to advertising.  It’s being used to determine optimum price points for cars, for television programming, for product placement, and even audio.

Some of the things Neurofocus discovered convinced us to rethink some of the things we do.  For example, people interpret information on different parts of a screen with different sections of their brain. Typically, the elements in the left visual field are interpreted by the right frontal lobe.  The elements on the right side are picked up by the left frontal lobe.

The right frontal lobe is better for interpreting images and iconography.  The left is better for semantics and quantative information.

So a logo or image works better on the left side of the visual; copy and numbers on the right.

That means that if the information is in the wrong place, the advertiser has reduced the engagement potential of the ad.  In fact, when Neurofocus looked at a variety of materials in the marketplace, their estimates are that as much as 75% of communications may be less than optimized for how your brain wants to gather information.

A quick review of information we recalled over the last day or so tends to reinforce this:  logos typically are on the lower right of ads and spots; websites (including ours, until now) mix up visuals and information; even the lead template in PowerPoint is structured so that text goes on the left and images are placed on the right.

We may be limiting the engagement of our audiences before they even see our materials.

How important is this engagement?  A competitor to Neurofocus, EmSense, recently conducted a study on how award-winning advertising from Cannes and from the Effies (a competition that measures advertising effectiveness) affected neurological response.  The study indicated that the award-winning ads engaged the brains of the audience much faster than typical ads—in about 1.5 seconds rather than 5 to 7 seconds.

And it reinforced a finding we’ve seen before:  the study suggested that both the Cannes and Effie winners would be effective, which parallels other research we’ve seen that award-winning advertising in general is more effective than run of the mill stuff.

So with these things in mind, we decided that we should make some changes to our website, taking into account some of the lessons of neuroscience.  We are also using this as an opportunity to build in some additional interactivity and reference.   We changed the placement of links.  We separated our logo and tagline.  We looked at the positioning of a variety of elements.

And we’ll keep on top of this technology and provide updates as we learn more.

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about how your brain processes information, contact us and we’ll share more with you.

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3/22/2010 / Labels: ,

Actually, sex DOESN'T sell.

Sometimes not even if you're selling sex.

One of the oldest adages in advertising is: sex sells.

Marketers use hotties and hunks to shill everything from margarine to massive machinery. Here at BrainPosse, we're as guilty as anyone. Most of the magazine ads, brochures, websites, videos and newsletters we've done for boat manufacturers feature very attractive people, minimally attired to emphasize their physical attributes.

But does this really work?

The use of sexually-suggestive imagery and/or language in advertising is so pervasive that there are innumerable studies on the phenomenon.

According to one, by Dr. Tom Reichert, of the University of Alabama's Department of Advertising and Public Relations, the sexual content of advertising is overwhelmingly visual.

That study and numerous others use the amount and type of clothing as the primary index of sexual suggestiveness. Most rely on the four-stage rating scale first put forward by researchers L. C. Soley and L. N. Reid in The Journal of Advertising Research: demure, suggestive, partially-clad and nude.

Surprisingly, the sexual content of magazine ads indicate a recent decline at the most extreme end of the spectrum. In parallel studies conducted in 1964, 1984 and 2004, female nudity in ads rose from 23.1% in 1964 to 37.9% in 1984, then fell to 17.5% in 2004. Male nudity rose from 5.5% in 1964 to 9.5% in 1984 then disappeared – 0% – in 2004.

Using the Soley and Reid scale, women are overwhelmingly more likely to be objectified in sexually-suggestive ads than men. In the 2004 survey, 67.5% of ads showing females had either partially-clad or nude women, while only 6.8% of ads showing males had partially-clad men (none had nude men).

It seems unlikely that 67.5% – or even 6.8% – of magazine ads were for products or services promising a sex-related benefit. So most of those suggestive ads are using what the academics call "low association" imagery or verbal insinuation. That is, the sexual content has little or no relevance to the product or service or the promised benefit to prospective customers. It is simply intended to draw attention to the advertising message (see the Paris Hilton spot for Carl's Jr.).

Presumably these low-association sexual content ads are based on the notion that once folks were drawn into the ad they read more, correctly identify the advertiser, attribute a persuasive benefit to the product or service and form an intent to purchase.

Because sex sells, right?

Maybe not. Some events have called that hoary adage into question.

There was the announcement by Geoffrey Arnold, president of the Nevada Brothel Association, that business is drooping. In 2008, Revenues at the state's legal brothels are down as much as 45% from a year ago.

Naturally one would expect an industry buttoned-up enough to have a trade association to have a plan to deal with hard times, and the brothel owners do. More alluring staff? More imaginative services? Previously unattainable transports of ecstasy?

Nope. Gas coupons.

The Shady Lady Ranch is giving $50 gas coupons to clients who spend $300, and $100 coupons to those who spend $500.

And not just gas coupons:

  • The Moonlight Bunny Ranch gave a whole new meaning to "stimulus checks" by doubling the value of the checks the Treasury Department sent to taxpayers to jump start the stalled economy. (Possibly the only economic stimulus checks that weren't funneled to Japan and Korea for flat-panel TVs.)
  • Another intimate entertainment establishment has a "frequent flyer" volume discount package for regular customers.
  •  The Chicken Ranch offers a $100-off coupon to active-duty and retired military personnel.

What's next? Senior citizen discounts? Twofer Tuesdays? Matinee pricing before 3:00 P.M.?

It's instructive that when faced with tough economic times, brothel owners didn't go for sexy sizzle. They're using the same, mundane, price-based appeals that are the default choice of car dealerships, furniture stores and fast food outlets everywhere. 

Hmmm. So sex isn't selling brothels' services? But surely it sells beer.

Actually, it probably doesn't. At least not according to a recently published article.

The new information is from the same Dr. Tom Reichert referenced in the fourth paragraph of this article. (He seems to spend a suspicious amount of time and attention on the subject.)

Dr. Reichert's article is a synthesis of dozens of academic and commercial studies on sexual content in advertising. It debunks the "sex sells" myth pretty emphatically. At least for the low-association categories which use sexual imagery or innuendo to attract attention to ads for products or services with no direct association with sexuality.

All of the studies Dr. Reichert cites in his article are based on the similar information-processing or hierarchy-of-effects models. In both models the process of turning an audience member into a customer moves through sequential steps:

  •  Awareness
  •  Attention
  •  Liking
  •  Comprehension
  •  Receptivity
  •  Persuasion
At BrainPosse we believe in five out of six. We have seen a great deal of non-academic research indicating that "liking" is not a necessary step in the process. People are frequently persuaded to choose products or services by ads or commercials they dislike. We'd also add recall to the mix.

Those quibbles aside, we believe that Dr. Reichert and the many studies to which he refers are correct for low-association sexual imagery.

Dr. Reichert notes that, "In the advertising context, there is strong evidence that sexual information attracts attention." Studies using every technique from self-reporting to galvanic skin response to Starch "noted" data confirm that. Other studies found that recall of ads with sexual content was higher than that of ads for the same product without the gratuitous sexuality.

So far so good, but that's where the process breaks down. Recall of the sexual content was higher than average ad recall. But recall of the brand name was significantly lower. Copy recall was also much lower in sexual-contents versus non-sexual-content ads.

There was a marked decline noted in the processing of information the advertiser wanted to convey in sexual-content ads. All attention – and cogitation – was focused on the gratuitous sexual element and none on the brand or the benefit.

As M. W. Alexander and B. B. Judd reported in The Journal of Advertising Research, "With few exceptions, low-sex or no-sex conditions resulted in significantly higher brand-recall scores than moderate- and high-sex conditions."

Some important conclusions follow naturally from this information:

  • Sexual content increases awareness of an ad or commercial.
  • People seeing an ad or commercial with low-association sexual content are more likely to remember the sexual image than the ad.
  • Copy in ads with low-association sexual content is less likely to be remembered.
  • The brand in ads with low-association sexual imagry is significantly less likely to be remembered.
Actually, gratuitous sex may do more than blunt the effectiveness of ads and commercials. A study by Susan Cummings found that 75% of women and 53% of men aged 35 to 54 said that sex in advertising can be offensive. Women are apparently more outraged than men (possibly because objectification of women is ten times that of men), and somewhere between 20% and 29% of them avoid products with explicit sexual advertising.

That 20% to 29% reduction in a brand's potential market seems like a high price to pay to run an ad or commercial which is intrinsically less effective than one without sexual content.

We feel obliged to point out two things:

  • The perils of sexual content in ads and commercials are more pronounced among low-association and less pronounced in high-association product categories. Studies noted that message recall of lingerie and condom ads with sexual content was in the normal range. (Brand recall was below normal, however.) 
  • The backlash effect against advertisers using sexual content diminishes – or even disappears – among younger (teens and twenties) audiences. The ads and commercials still lose effectiveness, they just don't create active aversion to the advertised product.)
It can be hard to let go of long-held beliefs. But there's another bit of received wisdom that refuted the "sex sells" concept more than half a century ago.

An old warning about the negative impact of unrelated distractions – like gratuitous sex – in ads and commercials appeared in Rosser Reeves' 1960 book, Reality in Advertising. Reeves warned about the dangers of "vampire video," visual elements unrelated to a commercial's main point that distract the audience and reduce effectiveness dramatically. And low-association sexual content is certainly as distracting and unrelated a visual as we can imagine.

The danger of vampire video transcends media, and web pages, newspaper ads, outdoor or direct mail can be weakened by irrelevant elements just as easily as the TV spots that were Reeves' m├ętier.

In most cases sex doesn't sell. To find out more about what does, and how BrainPosse can harness those effective motivators for your brand, click here, or call BrainPosse at 865-330-0033.

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3/09/2010 / Labels: ,

Writing their way into a corner

Broadcast TV seems to be adopting newspapers’ tactic of abandoning a large affluent audience in pursuit of a less-desirable audience they’ll never catch.

In 2008 the median age of U.S. television viewers was 50. It had never before been out of the sacrosanct 18-49 demographic. It's not likely to return to that coveted 18-49 range any time soon. Although TV is still the 800-pound gorilla of media, younger audiences are gradually migrating toward second and third screens, leaving the flat-panel in the living room to Boomer-and-older folks.

For decades, the 18-49 demographic was the only age cohort most advertisers cared about. Of course some marketers focused more specifically on subsets like 18-24, not wanting to waste media dollars on geezers a quarter-century old.

Weird. Because Boomers and olders – the 38% of Americans who are now 46 and up – have 79% of America’s wealth. The boomers alone (46-64) control 41% of discretionary spending.

Conventional “wisdom” was that Boomers-and-older audiences weren’t worth pursuing because they already had everything they needed. And in any event, they weren't going to be around long enough to be worth cultivating as a market.

But The Wall Street Journal reported that 7 of the 13 cars which an average American household buys are bought after the head of household turns 50. So ignoring the 50+ consumer means missing out on just over half a household's vehicle purchases. And it's the more profitable half. Households headed by 55- to 64-year-olds spend 20% more on new cars and trucks than those headed by 25- to 34-year-olds, according to Advertising Age.

Many marketers don’t go after Boomer-and-older audiences because they think this group has already bonded with brands and aren’t inclined to switch. Very, very wrong. A TV Land study found that Boomers are the least brand-loyal adults – 26% responded that they are not at all brand-loyal. Just 21% of Gen-Xers and Millennials characterize themselves that way. Overall, the study found that people over 40 are more open to new brands and less brand-loyal than those under 40.

So TV actually delivers an audience of prime prospects with money to spend and a propensity to be persuaded to try new brands.

And TV does it without a lot of waste reaching people who don’t have the wherewithal to splurge $47 billion a year on fashions. Or fill the cabins on most cruise liners, do most of the dining at white-tablecloth restaurants, buy Harley-Davidsons or tool around town in Mercedes Benz. (Those are all brands or categories whose sales are dominated by Boomer-and-older buyers.)

You’d think that the networks would capitalize on this incredible opportunity to deliver a mass affluent market, and reinforce their strength with the 50-and-over group. But the same wisdom that made it seem like a good idea to move Jay Leno to 10 P.M. has persuaded the nets to chase after the going – or long gone – 18-24 market and do their best to drive their franchise audience away.

One way they do that is by providing content almost exclusively created by people under 40.

According to a Writers Guild of America report, “Very few writers over 40 are employed on many popular prime-time television series,” and “The unemployment rate for writers over 30 has increased since the 1980s.” Some recent confirmation of the trend: a group of producers and agents recently settled an age-discrimination class-action lawsuit for $71 million to compensate for effectively banning scriptwriters over 40 from the business. Not exactly small change. And not an amount they would have offered if the allegations of ageism weren’t true.

Writers over 40 can remember what it was like to be 20. Writers under 30 cannot imagine what it will be like to be 60. So people beyond the age of the 20- and 30-something writers of most broadcast network scripted shows are often portrayed as stereotypes who do not create empathy and identification with the valuable boomer-and-older audience.

Several years ago, in the early stages of newspapers’ death spiral, we posted an article on their looming problem and some possible ways to ameliorate it. One solution was to play to newspapers' strength, the ability to deliver the mass affluent Boomer-and-older market:

“Trying to dress up an ink-on-paper daily to appeal to kids is like putting a 70-year-old lady in a miniskirt. It doesn't make her attractive, it makes her ridiculous.

"All the ‘newspapers in classrooms’ programs and special teen sections in the world won't turn kids into newspaper readers. Newspapers simply aren't part of their media universe. So blow the kids off and concentrate on newspapers' strengths. Focus everything – columns, features, even news coverage – on the interests of newspapers' existing core audience.”

The advice applies to TV, too. There’s an audience of just over 114 million people over 40. They’re relatively affluent, susceptible to being persuaded to change brands and the most important purchasers of virtually every high-ticket category in the marketplace. Appeal to them by writing in their terms, using writers of their age.

It seems to work pretty well for Dick Wolf (producer of the "Law and Order" series), one of the few producers known for hiring 40+ writers. It could work for the entire industry.

Disclaimer: The BrainPosse principals have both written TV shows, and their 40th birthdays are diminishing dots in their rear-view mirrors. We don’t expect agents, networks or producers to put us on speed dial any time soon.

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2/14/2010 / Labels: ,

Comparative advertising: Marketing jujitsu, Part 2

Part 2: Naming names and kicking brands.

What do you do if your competitor's brand is much stronger than yours and has a much bigger marketing budget behind it? Simple. Hijack the brand – and,  if you're lucky, the budget – to work for you. A well-planned and executed campaign can do just that. Especially if the stronger competitor can be goaded into counterattacking.

In the mid 1970s Cola marketers ran a lot of double-blind tests to gauge taste preference for Coke or Pepsi.

In these double-blind tests consumers were given three unidentified samples of cola to taste. Two were identical, one different. The consumers were asked to identify which two were the same and which taste they preferred. Consumers could only correctly pair the two identical colas about half the time. Statistically the same as a coin-toss guess. Results from those who did not correctly pair the colas were routinely discarded. Those who could identify the matched pair correctly preferred Pepsi by an appreciable margin. 

Those results were the basis for two massive marketing campaigns. One a tremendous success. The other, a monumental failure.

The success was the Pepsi Challenge. Starting in 1975 Pepsi ran a series of commercials in which consumers compared two unidentified colas, and when they chose a winner it was revealed to be Pepsi. The campaign ran for years, interspersed with non-comparative brand-sell commercials. The Pepsi Challenge took Pepsi past Coke in sales in outlets where both were available, such as convenience stores and supermarkets. (Coke's dominance of single-brand outlets – like McDonald's – helped them hold on to the overall #1 spot.)

The Pepsi Challenge spots infuriated Coke's marketing people. Not least because they knew the results were bogus. The Pepsi Challenge was edited to make it appear that most or all respondents preferred Pepsi. From the double-blind tests they had run, Coke knew that most people can't tell the difference. But they weren't about to refute Pepsi by going public with the fact that the products were indistinguishable to most folks.

By 1983 Coke was finally goaded into responding.

Coke didn't just answer Pepsi's campaign with comparative commercials of their own, which would have been bad enough. Coke actually conceded that Pepsi was right, and that Coke needed to be reformulated. Reformulation, by itself, wouldn't have been a problem. But Coke trumpeted the change to the world.

The disaster of New Coke was one of the most bone-headed marketing moves ever. Coke's marketing director at the time, Sergio Zyman, has subsequently written that New Coke wasn't a failure because they learned from it. (You think maybe a marketing director whose education required the destruction of hundreds of millions of dollars in shareholder value wasn't ready for the job?)

The New Coke disaster was, of course, preventable. Because Coke had access to non-blind taste tests which showed that consumers vastly preferred Coke when they could see the labels. If they simply changed the formula and kept the change a deep, dark secret it could have been a successful, incremental, product improvement. After all, bottlers constantly tweak colas' balances of syrup, sweetener and carbonization to accommodate local tastes. That's why a Coke from New York tastes more like a Pepsi from New York (low syrup, low sweetener, high carbonization) than it does a Coke from Atlanta (high sweetener, high syrup, low carbonization).

Pepsi beat Coke twice with one campaign. First by building share in all dual-brand outlets. They by goading Coke into wasting hundreds of millions of product-development and marketing dollars which then weren't available to use effectively to counter Pepsi.

It's an iron-clad rule of marketing: When a weaker brand attacks a stronger brand, the weaker brand wins. When a stronger brand attacks a weaker brand, the weaker brand wins.

Fast food is a perfect example, Subway used Jared Fogel and his 245-pound weight loss to establish a position as a healthy alternative to fast food burgers. When they established that point they went after McDonald's directly, with a sandwich-to-sandwich comparison of fat content. They have more than doubled sales since the campaign began, and now actually outnumber McDonald's in outlets (though not in sales).

An interesting twist on the "naming names" phenomenon is that Quizno's is now attacking Subway by name.

Quizno's is using marketing jujitsu effectively by attacking Subway's core value, low-calorie healthfulness. Quizno's compares the generous amount of meat and cheese on their sandwiches to the skimpy portions that make Subway low-fat, low calorie.

Naming names worked very effectively for Subway. It remains to be seen if it will also work effectively against them. But that "weaker always wins" rule says it will.

There's probably more naming of names in automotive advertising than any other category these days. Unfortunately, it's all confusing. Because the weaker automotive brands don't seem to be able to limit themselves to naming one name. They name a bunch.

The Ford Fusion ran complex comparisons with the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima. The Ford's sales didn't meet expectations, but that probably has more to do with the fact that they crammed everything imaginable into the spots and so nothing was communicated. If they had just picked one competitor, and hammered home one key advantage, things would almost certainly have gone better for them.

Miller Lite is confusing in a different way. They've aired a spot that says about a third of Bud Light drinkers prefer Miller Lite. In the spot bottles of Bud Light turn red (to represent drinkers who prefer Bud Lite) or blue (representing Bud Light drinkers who prefer Miller Lite in taste tests), and the blue bottles animate into gumbys and leave. Problem is the commercial communicated that a majority prefer Bud Light.

The complex reasoning goes like this: "These are Bud Light drinkers so they would all be expected to prefer Bud Light but a third of them prefer Miller Lite." doesn't connect.

First, Miller apparently expects people to be paying attention so closely that they understand that the drinkers being polled are Bud Light drinkers. Unfortunately, people don't watch commercials that closely.  So it looks as if Miller Lite is losing the taste test. And even if the viewer is a Bud Light drinker, the probable reaction is "Yep. Most of us Bud Light drinkers prefer Bud Light. That's why we drink it." It's like a Pepsi Challenge where Pepsi loses.

Perhaps the best "naming names" commercials on the air today are the Mac versus PC spots. (PC isn't technically a brand, but the entire PC category is Mac's competition.) Mac has made computer selection a David-versus-Goliath choice. A smart, hip, laid-back Mac versus a rigid, old-fashioned, clunky, not-very-leading-edge PC. They have personified the competing computer types with stereotypical users, and the target audience would much rather be the cool Mac guy than the clunky PC geek.

As the car commercials and the strange Miller Lite spot show, the power of comparative advertising doesn't suspend the other strictures of marketing communications. But if used well, comparative advertising can help weaker brands leverage the strength of their stronger competitors. And, if they goad them into responding, the weaker brands can hijack their bigger competitors' marketing budgets as well.

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2/08/2010 / Labels: ,

Comparative Advertising: Marketing Jujitsu, Part 1

In 1962 Avis was one of a pack of also-rans in a rental car market dominated by Hertz. They used Hertz's strength to leverage themselves from a 11% share to a 35% share in just one year through a Doyle Dane Bernbach campaign that became an advertising classic: "We're number 2. We try harder."The ads didn't mention Hertz by name. but lines like "We're in the rent a car business playing second fiddle to a giant." didn't leave much doubt about who they were competing with.

Funny thing was, it wasn't Hertz that Avis was going after. It was National and the rest of the large group of small companies that competed with Avis for the half of the rent a car market Hertz didn't control.

So why attack Hertz – albeit obliquely? Simple. That bedrock principle of advertising: people tend to think both parties in a comparative ad are equal. So when Avis attacked Hertz, the target audience didn't think Avis was better, They thought Avis and Hertz were about the same. That changed the entire rent a car decision-making process. Instead of "Hertz or one of the little guys?" it became "Hertz or Avis?"
That paradigm shift tripled Avis's market share without taking much of a bite out of Hertz. But it ravaged the share of the smaller companies.

It almost didn't happen. A lot of people at Avis thought positioning themselves as "Number 2" made them seem second rate. And a lot thought they would be crushed if Hertz decided to counterattack.
Actually, positioning themselves as number 2 was a promotion. Because up until them there was Hertz, a solid number 1, and Avis and all the rest nowhere.

The timid executives' fear of a counterattack was misplaced. If Hertz hit back, it would be the best thing that could have happened to Avis. Because no matter which company runs a comparative ad, the target audience tends to perceive both companies as comparable.

So if Hertz counterattacked their massive marketing budget – at the time orders of magnitude bigger than Avis's – would be persuading car renters that Hertz and Avis were the same, lifting Avis still farther out of the "all other" category and positioning them as on parity with Hertz.

One key factor in the success of the Avis ads was that they were extremely well written. And their attacks weren't head-on. They didn't say "Hertz has dirty ashtrays," they said "We just can't afford dirty ashtrays."
The focus was always on the fact that as the underdog Avis – as the campaign said – tried harder.

Eventually – and inexplicably – Avis dropped the "We're number 2." and kept only "We try harder." Fortunately for them, the much more memorable "Number 2" claim had been deeply engraved into the target audience's awareness by then. Because if Avis had originally gone with "We try harder" alone, the slogan would have sunk without a trace as just another piece of self-aggrandizing corporate bombast.

The unprecedented claim of the number 2 position was the key to the campaign's memorability and believability.

Eventually Hertz couldn't restrain the urge to rebuff Avis's challenge and ran an ad saying: "For years Avis has told you they're number 2. We'd like to tell you why." The ad didn't get a lot of media weight. It's easy to imagine that some Hertz executive simply couldn't resist hitting back – even though doing so helped Avis by adding credence to Avis's positioning as an equal competitor.

The discount brokerage segment is now a hotbed of generically-targeted comparative advertising.
For several years now Sam Waterston has compared TD Ameritrade to full-price brokers in a series of TV spots. Charles Schwab also attacks the full-price broker segment generically in a brilliant new animated spot from Euro RSCG. The premise is that the protagonist's broker has gotten more out of the protagonist's investment portfolio than the protagonist himself.

It's interesting that the discount brokers apparently believe that there is one large market for brokerage services, and that the full-price brokers are still the more powerful segment of it.

Their choice to compete against another segment of the overall category rather than for share within the discount niche says that they think the migration from full-service to discount has just begun, and there's more business to be gained by capitalizing on the shift than there would be by competing among each other for the investors who have already made the move.

If the competitor is big and well-known, name-no-names comparative advertising can be effective. But some advertisers who really want to capitalize on the competitor's brand power name their competitors' names.

Next week: Kicking brands and taking names.

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1/24/2010 / Labels: ,

Numbers don't lie--or do they?

Sometimes they can be misleading little rascals.

There are no shades of meaning with numbers. A 2 means 2, and that's it. Clear. Concrete. Not open to discussion or interpretation like "That depends on what the definition of 2 is." Two is this many: one, two.

So why can numbers be so misleading?

Sometimes, the numbers are irrelevant:

For decades companies measured every aspect of customer satisfaction. Image for advanced technology? Check. Friendly salespeople? Check. Like the color? Check. The only problem was these numbers don't happen to correlate to business success. One number – and apparently only one – does: the net promoter score.

A net promoter score is simply the percentage of people rating a company 1 through 6 subtracted from the percentage rating it 9 or 10 in response to the question: "On a scale of 1 to 10 how likely are you to recommend this company to a friend or associate?" The only other question that matters is the follow-up: "Why?"

Some creative research measures ads' and commercials' likeability, although there would not seem to be a correlation between how much a commercial is liked and how effective it is at generating the intended behavior in the target audience. So why measure likeability? More to the point: Why make decisions based upon a factor which doesn't impact results?

A number used to measure one factor may be inappropriately applied to another:

Customer satisfaction scores – whether net promoter or any other type – measure customer satisfaction. Period. They do not measure what motivated customers to pick the company in the first place. A lot of research has shown that the factors that determine selection are often very different from those which determine satisfaction.

Marketers only see customers during the transaction, so they're inclined to overemphasize the importance of satisfaction drivers. But those marketers aren't able to observe while prospects are making their purchase decisions. So they're susceptible to confusing the factors that generate satisfaction with the ones that generate sales. When they advertise satisfaction drivers rather than the sales drivers, the results are often disappointing.

Another problem with focusing on satisfaction drivers is that that businesses only see the people who decided to buy from them, not all the ones who went elsewhere. So large areas of opportunity may go unrecognized.

There's occasionally confusion about what the numbers mean:

A recent study showed that only 2% of cars are sold on line. Quite true. But more than ten times that many are sold in dealerships when a customer walks in with a check in the amount previously negotiated on line. And many more sales are begun with on-line research into make, model, price and discounts. So the dealer who naively believes that only 2% of purchases come from the internet is competing at a serious disadvantage to those who know what the numbers really mean.

Often, a crucial number is missing:

A new television campaign has achieved a significant jump in awareness. A test panel found the commercial effective at communicating the intended benefit. (That can be determined in focus groups and one-on-one research.) The media plan delivers strong sustaining-weight reach and frequency. And sales are flat. Are the data flawed? Is the campaign a bust? Or did three new competitors come into the market with launch-weight reach and frequency? If so, the new campaign's share of voice is a small fraction of the company's former portion of media exposure in the category. If that's the case, just holding sales flat is a big win.

On a micro scale, we know an automotive dealership with a third of a competitor's media spending which has been duped into believing media weights are the same by the competitor's "friendly" data sharing. The dealer has never attempted a competitive media analysis, so he wonders why his sales are a fraction of his "friend's," and switches from agency to agency looking for a magic solution to a simple – but unrecognized – problem.

Numbers may not lie, but people sometimes do:

Ask an average group of people if advertising influences their purchase decisions and the answer is a resounding and unanimous "No!" With that sort of response, you'd expect the entire industry to close up shop immediately. Watch how those people behave, however, and it's a very different story.

The new – and excellent – book, What Sticks, makes the point that the only accurate way to measure advertising's impact on purchase decisions is by observation of the behavior. Decades earlier Rosser Reeves devised the Usage Pull methodology which measured open-ended purchase intent responses of people who had and had not been exposed to a brand's advertising. Both valid. But asking "Would that ad convince you to buy?" isn't.

And, of course, there's always misdirection:

Magicians use flamboyant gestures with one hand to divert attention from what the other hand is doing. Matadors dupe bulls into charging a cape rather than the person wielding it. It's called misdirection, and it's all too common in marketing communications.

Media salespeople, agencies and even internal teams sometimes say, in effect "Look over here!" to direct attention away from what really matters. Like the media rep who proves conclusively that her or his station is #1 in the market, while conveniently omitting the fact that it doesn't reach your company's target demographic. Or the agency which trumpets a commercial's Advertising Age "most liked" ratings while ignoring dismal awareness and preference numbers. Or even the sales manager whose PowerPoint focuses on increased sales while side-stepping the fact that all of those sales were made by offering such deep discounts that the company lost money on each and every one.

We love numbers:

Numbers are the heart and soul of marketing. At BrainPosse we love the little rascals. Everything we do is focused on our favorite: ROI. Like anything someone loves, numbers deserve understanding, respect and to be treated right.

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1/18/2010 / Labels: ,

By the numbers.

More memorable and meaningful than puffery.

Headlines and sig lines (or strap lines) can be the most memorable part of ads. But all too often they're meaningless fluff. "Finest," "Best," "Most trusted," "Best value" and others of that vague ilk are verbal mush without any distinctive hook to aid recall. One tremendous mnemonic aid is to quantify the claim with a hard number. Consider these:

"This bread is very nutritious." or "Builds strong bodies 12 ways?" No contest which would be remembered. (The Wonder Bread slogan began as eight ways in the 1930s and grew to twelve ways in the 1950s.) As an aside, Wonder Bread built strong bodies by throwing a couple of vitamin enrichment tablets about the size of hockey pucks into the dough to replace nutrients removed in processing.

"This fine automobile is really quiet." or "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock," the 1958 Ogilvy classic.

How about: "We condense a lot of tomatoes to make our tomato paste," or "Who put eight, great tomatoes in that little bitty can?" Stan Freberg's wonderful radio jingle. The ending was a thing of beauty: "You know who. You know who. You know who." The jingle was followed with the spot's only spoken words: "In case you don't, it was Contadina." The final word was the only mention of the brand. That broke a lot of rules, but it got tremendous recall, and built the Contadina brand.

Orbachs, New York's recently closed bargain-priced department store, might have said "A tradition of bargain prices ever since our founding." Instead Doyle Dane Bernbach (now DDB) said "Our summer sale began Oct. 4, 1923."

When all Coca-Colas came is the distinctive six-ounce hour-glass shaped bottle, an upstart competitor came after them with a jingle built around a number:

Pepsi-Cola hits the spot,

Twelve full ounces, that's a lot.

Twice as much for a nickel, too.

Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.

How 'bout:

"15 minutes could save you 15% or more." Two numbers that say a little time could save you a lot of money with Geico.

"Twice as much of the pain reliever doctors recommend most" (Anacin).

"99 44/100% Pure?" The slogan worked for Ivory from its beginnings in 1882.

"Rolaids consumes 47 times its weight in excess stomach acid."

"In Soviet Georgia, where they eat a lot of yogurt, a lot of people live past 100." Marsteller's classic Dannon campaign was way more effective than simply saying "Yogurt is good for you." And the commercials featuring Georgian centenarians were wonderful.

"Four out of five doctors surveyed recommended Trident sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum." The beginning of a hoary tradition of four-out-of-five doctor commercials.

"How can one calorie taste so good?" helped build the Tab brand.

"Eight out of ten cats prefer Whiskas" (although they don't ask for it by name).

The specificity of a number makes the claim more believable. After all, numbers don't lie, do they? It also makes the claim more memorable. A number has sticking power that simply isn't there in pure puffery.

Four out of five marketing directors agree.

To learn more about the impact of numbers, contact us by clicking here or by calling (865) 330-0033.

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