Crocheted doll hats off to American Girl Doll (AGD) for some of the most effective marketing I have ever seen. Bringing new meaning to managing supply and demand, they have targeted the heart and soul of the most competitive purchasing segment in the US: the pre-teen girl. In a fashion that I admire and embrace, AGD has surrounded their target audience (and their target’s CFOs—the moms) with a true 360 degree marketing approach. They embrace print, events, email, destination marketing and a new twist, hair styling. Simply put, American Girl Doll has created a private media channel to talk directly to their customers and prospects. They truly own their media channel rather than renting traditional ad space.
To see this media channel in action take a trip, curious marketers! AGD calls it “Shop, Play, Visit, Watch”. There are so many ways to interact with this brand and all roads lead to profit. The dolls represent historical figures or exact look-a-likes of your little princesses. They represent different nationalities, races and abilities. They are designed to be aspirational as well as inspirational. Dolls and the endless supply of outfits, furniture, pets, accessories and equipment can be purchased online or at one of the specialty American Girl Doll stores in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta. The clothes fit the dolls and they have matching outfits and pj’s for the big girls too! But don’t just shop at the stores! Stay and have lunch with your little look-alikes. Get your hair done, and the doll’s hair, too. Just make sure to keep the credit card in hand.
They have created a custom magazine to talk directly with their customers. For $23 the American Girl Doll magazine will entertain while building loyalty and preference, six times a year. The content is written with the target in plain sight, including: party planning; crafts; activities; even girl-to-girl advice for those 8-12 years old. The custom media component is complimented by “more magazine fun online” including compelling puzzles, quizzes and games from “the magazine on FUN”. Whether filling Felicity’s Wagon, visiting Kaya’s Mountain Escape, or helping Molly grow a garden, the online activities are designed to be educational and wholesome. Given the challenges of monitoring children’s online usage, moms generally welcome sites and activities that embrace these qualities. Our little American Girls can spend their most valuable pre-teen resource, their time, devoted to this brand. The smart ones even figure out how to get their mom’s most valuable resource, cash, committed as well. My Mom-sense is that $23 seems a reasonable subscription offer for hours of fun and reading for this integrated print/web product.
The entertainment continues with DVDs and feature-length films in theaters, generally inspired by the many books written about these 15 inch tall beauties. Trailers of the movies can be previewed at http://www.americangirl.com/ .
As a mom, I am taken back to my own youth, when Barbie and her friends were the hub of my universe. Nurse Barbie, Wedding Barbie, Beach Barbie, Doctor Barbie… ah the options were endless. My friends and I worked our parents with a finesse that would impress a diplomat for a new doll or ensemble. Maybe it was just that our parents knew that a new outfit, complete with teeny weenie high heels could keep us busy for hours of healthy imaginative playtime. As wonderful as Barbie and her buddies were, they were limited to dolls and accessories, and their promotional opportunities were limited to running ads on TV and in magazines. My daughter’s choices seem to have so much more depth and dynamics and AGD can own their media channel. Because they use media and technology to surround their customer, AGD has built a much deeper relationship than I could ever have had with Barbie.
As a marketer, I marvel at what this Barbie in the “post advertising age” strategy has accomplished. Their success is unquestionable and the future looks bright. My next question to my clients: can you shop, play, visit, watch and live your brand? If you can’t yet, is it a possibility? What are the components that can be added to your existing strategy that will compliment the existing plan? And what can we all learn from a doll about private media channels?
Much has been made of the efforts of conservative radio hosts to affect the Republican primary process. The right wing talker crowd almost uniformly and vocally supported Mitt Romney, the formerly moderate Governor of Massachusetts. Additionally, they railed against John McCain and Mike Huckabee with a venom previously reserved for Bill Clinton and Barbara Streisand. Question: does anyone else see the irony of a thrice divorced indicted drug addict, Rush Limbaugh, defaming a war hero and a Minister?
A deeper look tells us a lot about the changing media landscape and reinforces the fact that consumers are now in control of their media choices.
Conservative talk radio has been a successful media phenomenon, while attempts to recreate on the left have been a commercial failure. The energy of these shows are often fueled by the anger and resentment of listeners who are unhappy with the changes going on around them and the always present liberal (or enemy of the day) threat. Tune in for a while and you will hear they sure are against a lot of things: taxes, universal healthcare, affirmative action, gun control, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, and secular progressives who are now apparently conducting a war on Christmas.
The success of these shows depends on conflict and ideological purity which is why they hate John McCain. Based on his past record, a President McCain would reach out to his friends across the aisle and attempt to create the solutions Americans crave. Voters in the primary elections are gravitating to McCain and Barack Obama who are least ideological and are the most pragmatic of the candidates.
Voters in both parties want real solutions and desire authenticity. That is one of the reasons why conservative radio could not deliver for Romney. Jay Severin, a radio host here in MA, turned his show into a four hour daily commercial for Romney (whom he said would be on Mount Rushmore as a President) and regularly spewed bile about McCain. Net result - Romney only beat McCain by four delegates in his home state on Super Tuesday, symbolic of his greater lack of traction among Republican voters.
The other reason talk radio could not influence voters is rooted in changes in the media landscape. Like the left-leaning network news, right wing radio used to be the only game in town. It was the place where people got their news, and where they formed their opinions. Not anymore. Now there are thousands of places to get information about the candidates and issues. Blogs and citizen journalists have flooded the Web, proliferating the number of opinions to choose from (Technorati tracks over 46,000 political blogs). Additionally, candidates are now using their own Web sites and private media solutions to speak directly to voters with their own media channel. Voters can easily find information and do their own research. It is tough to pass off Romney as a social conservative when You Tube is full of clips from his more liberal past. Click here and here to see pro-choice Mitt in action. It is also hard to misrepresent McCain’s conservative record when anyone can look it up themselves. Between media changes and the current mood of the electorate, the conservative commentators are losing relevancy and influence. Not to mention the credibility issue they have after selling their audiences so hard on George Bush, on track to leave office the least popular President since Nixon.
The loss of credibility, relevance and influence has these radio hosts nervous and up in arms. Being a right wing commentator has become a lucrative media career. The radio shows are only the hub of a multi-platform brand that includes books, TV shows, Web sites and speaking engagements. In fact, I have hired Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham (me and Laura at the Rainbow Room, she was great) as dinner speakers for B2B events. A loss of relevancy and perceived influence could be disastrous for their media brands and personal income.
Twice in my career I was working on a formally powerful media brand that lost relevancy and influence seemingly overnight due to market and media consumption changes. It ain’t pretty to see up close, and once that mystique is gone, it is gone for good. This is why you hear some of these pundits, led by Ann Coulter, say they will vote for Hillary or Obama over McCain presumably to keep the conflict and anger stoked. Which do you think Ann is more concerned with, the welfare of American people or the bottom line of Ann Coulter, Inc.?
There have already been a million reviews of the creative, and that is not our goal, but rather to take a Private Media/Custom Media look at the efforts.
One of the big themes was Web tie-ins and promotions. Google/You Tube offered a special package which was a smart option. When you are spending $3 million for 30 seconds of rented TV time, it is a no brainier to buy a package from the premier search engine and video sharing site. My Space and other sites also promoted how you could recap the commercials online after the game. Many (but not enough) of the commercials invited you to a special Web site with mixed results. This was the whole focus of the Go Daddy campaign where they teased you to go on line for a lame Junior High joke about Danica Patrick and a beaver. Embarrassing all around, and did nothing to persuade people to use their domain buying service.
The other theme was the overall level of violence, anger, mayhem and gross outs. Puking babies, hearts jumping out of a chest, people sucked into a jet engine, face mauling badgers, and Justin Timberlake being beaten senseless. I haven’t even gotten to the politically incorrect and just plain offensive – making fun of foreigners, unattractive women and creepy clowns. I am a pretty insensitive guy, and even I was offended at some of this stuff.
Mayhem has been a theme for a couple of years now. I can only guess that this is what happens when big agencies try to make news rather than practice good marketing. They are trying to outdo each other and be outrageous to break through the clutter. This is classic example of agencies talking AT customers rather building a relationship and imparting information that could be used to make a buying decision. The whole Super Bowl ad culture has forgotten the purpose of advertising and marketing is to actually sell products and services.
What struck me the most about these ads is how all those marketing dollars could have been used more effectively. Here are just some rough ideas on how to better spend $3,000,000 using content based private custom media solutions.
1. Mining your customer and prospect database to create a quarterly magazine or newsletter with customized content to build a relationship of trust with your customers. 2. A frequent buyer’s affinity program aimed at your best customers to get them to spend more money and convert them to life long customers. 3. A series of interactive webcasts where you can give customers and prospects great information while creating a two-way dialog. 4. A custom Web site packed with content and an online video series with a viral component to build excitement about your brand and turn customers into brand evangelists. 5. A series of face-to-face events to get yourself closer to your customers. There is no substitute to getting your prospects to actually touch, feel and try your product. This works for both consumer and business offerings. If you want someone to try a new version of Pepsi then get it into people’s hands in a fun atmosphere. That will convert a lot more customers than a commercial that rips off a 1990’s Saturday Night Live skit
Two Ads I Really Liked
I thought the ad for the Audi R8 did the best job showing you the product in action and creating excitement for a new car. First they get you hooked with a parody of the Godfather. They even used an actor, Alex Rocco, from the original film. (He played Jewish gangster Moe Green, the bullet in the eye guy from the scene where Michael settles all family business). After getting the viewer sucked in they tease the car in action, which was impressive to say the least. The only reaction you can have is “Wow, I have to know more about that.”
The other ad I really liked was the Coke parade ad. While Pepsi tries to be cool and trendy, Coke takes a timeless, classic approach with cartoon characters. It was creative, fun and multi generational, using Charlie Brown, Stewie from Family Guy and Underdog. Just putting those three together was inspired. The best part was in the end poor old Charlie Brown gets the bottle of coke. It was a feel good, affinity building moment that stood out in a sea of mean-spirited commercials.
I am also compelled to mention that my media flavored NY vs. Boston Super Bowl game prediction was right on the money. The lesson – When Hubris comes up against Karma, always take Karma and the points.
In a year packed with mostly forgettable ads, there’s one company people are still berating, for the second year in a row, for airing the Super Bowl’s worst ads.
We expected it – and CEO Vin Gupta promised it. Last year, the salesgenie.com ads “positively impacted” business to such an extent that Gupta followed the same tact this year. He even conceptualized the commercials and wrote the dialogue himself.
It’s not the bad accents, uninspired “storyline,” or even the crappy animation. It’s that the company came off looking cheap and low quality. And if the commercials made you curious enough to visit salesgenie.com, you’re in for a sorry surprise. Their Web site only enhances the low brow corporate image displayed in the television ads.
Moreover, isn’t it ironic that a company that specializes in sales leads – targeted selling to a qualified audience – would be so untargeted in their own sales campaign? Sure, they might have reached a million salespeople through their Super Bowl ads, but how many people who don’t give a damn about anything sales-related, saw those ads? Nearly 100 million – the waste was incredible. And for the $6 million spent on animated panda bears and evil bosses, they could have created a content-based, targeted private channel in which they actually create a relationship with their real prospects. How did a sales lead company, a company that sells to salespeople, miss that?
I love football and I am a huge Pats fan. I have also worked in advertising and marketing for 20 years. So as you can imagine this year’s game was for me a BIG disappointment! It wasn’t just because my beloved team crashed and burned on what was to be their coronation in the Hall of Perfection. It was because these were some of the worst Super Bowl ads ever. My viewpoints about to be expressed are not necessarily those of my employer. They are observations of a focus group of one: a Super-fan/Super-mom.
Reality TV culture has infiltrated our commercials. Kina Grannis won the Doritos-Idol contest and while I was prepared to hate it in the same way that I hate reality TV, I was pleasantly surprised. She has a beautiful voice. The tune was catchy. I didn’t have to cover my children’s eyes as it played or mute the language. I am glad Doritos is giving an unknown a chance but I am not sure it would make me buy high sodium, high fat snack foods for me or my family.
Careerbuilder.com, which seems harmless enough of a company, was a loser for me. Bloody hearts jumping out of shirts; sweet little fireflies being consumed by spiders, now this is the stuff that bad dreams are made of! The Super Bowl is a family event and we watch it with our kids. Did we not learn a lesson when Janet’s wardrobe malfunctioned? Like all good parents, when your kid is turned off you tend to follow suit in solidarity. The only thing this ad accomplished was make me happy that I like my job.
Salesgenie.com should be taken out back and have bamboo shoots stuck under their fingernails. My kids were questioning if that was mocking an entire community. (Remember, schools teach cultural sensitivity these days!) Ling Lings Bamboo Furniture, Ramesh and his Widgets and I Dream of Genie were not only bordering on political incorrectness, they were just dumb. Come on, do we really think Ramesh is going to save his job and provide for his seven kids because of 100 Sales Genie leads? The ads were insulting at best and patronizing in the least.
On the other hand, I loved the Tide-to-Go Interview. My Talking Stain was funny, memorable and like the stains on my kids’ clothes, it gets my attention. I went to mytalkingstain.com (completely inspired by Office Max and the Dancing Elves of holiday fame) and couldn’t wait to upload my kid’s photos. Children love to see themselves on-screen, e-mail their likenesses to their grandparents and all the while I am interacting with a brand. I already buy Tide, but this reinforces my relationship with them. Today Tide made me laugh in addition reminding me of their key product attribute—they clean clothes. That little value add, a smile during a crazy day, can go a along way for a mom.
I am grateful that I didn’t have to explain erectile dysfunction or Viagra to my kids. But in general, I was underwhelmed with the quality of the ads and messages. I was uninspired by companies who waste millions of dollars and opportunities to communicate a real message on silly cartoon characters that tell me nothing about the benefits of their products. I am disappointed that my team wasn’t super and that the ads for the most part were super-boring.
The proposed take over of Yahoo by Microsoft is a fascinating intersection of marketing, technology and advertising, with Microsoft motivated by its inability to compete with Google in search and online advertising. If I were in Steve Ballmer’s shoes I would probably do the same thing, but this strategy is a classic example of fighting the last war.
Mergers in the tech world never seem to work out for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they forget about the customer or take them for granted. These deals always sound good in the conference room where insulated executives pitch each other on stories of efficiency and synergy. They think that one plus one never equals three, in some cases such as TimeWarner/AOL – one plus one equaled .75.
Trying to merge cultures, technologies, people and rivalries is always a mess, and the needs of and desires of customers always take a back seat. It is always assumed that if “Joe” is a customer of Company B, and it is bought by Company A, then “Joe” naturally becomes a customer of Company A. This is faulty logic – our man Joe has no relationship or loyalty to the new company, and may not even like them (remember the HP/Compaq merger). The market has already selected Google as the de facto search standard by a huge margin. Why they would think that combing the second and third place search engines would get people to switch. The wisdom of crowds has spoken and it is not talking about the MSN network.
I have always been a big fan and heavy user of Yahoo’s content and email, but frankly, their search is not nearly as good as Google’s. I have started the day with my customized myYahoo page and used their email service forever. However, if a Microsoft-owned Yahoo tries to convert me to a Hotmail account, I am gone, and so will others who don’t want an email address that looks like it comes from an adult site.
Microsoft has to be very nervous about Google’s success and plans for the future. According to the New York Times, MS is heavily dependent on sales of operating systems and Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook) for profitability. In the last quarter alone their operating profit from Office was $3.2 billion on $4.8 billion in sales. That is literately printing money and a business model they need to defend.
It is hard to imagine a time when corporate America won’t be using MS Office, but fast forward 10-12 years. Do you really think we will all still be using packaged software that costs $400 a pop, or will we be using some sort of Software as a Service (SaaS) or ASP model? Check out Google Docs and you can see they are moving in this direction. That thought has to scare the heck out of Microsoft. Not to mention mobile computing and other platforms where they are lagging behind.
Technology is a cruel business, where one moment you are the hot new thing, the king of the hill, and a minute later you are yesterday’s news. Google will not be toppled by the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo. However, one day they will likely be knocked off the mountain by a group of brilliant kids who get their start in a garage.
I am not usually a fan of broad-based, brand advertising because they usually try too hard to be clever or sexy without selling the product or the benefits to the buyer. However, I love the recent Bud Light ads with the “Dude” guy. If you have not seen them, check out this YouTube link and this one which has football theme - and Fox's Joe Buck.
In some ways this breaks all the rules of classic advertising. They do not give any features or benefits of the product, or even try. They barely even show Bud Light. Not exactly Ogilvy on Advertising. However, the product they are advertising is not all that good – in fact it is a poor excuse for beer. Bland taste, too much carbonation, and I don’t think it is possible for a grown man to get a buzz off of low cal version of the classic Bud. Trying to sell the quality of product would not have credibility since no one really thinks Bud Light is a great tasting beer.
So why does the ad work? On one level, it is well done and funny. It taps into the non-verbal relationships most men have with each other. There is no need for talk, when a well placed situational “dude” will do the trick. The camera work and the melancholy piano are perfect creating a unique environment. The casting is excellent – he is the classic everyman in his late twenties or early thirties. Everyone knows a guy like him from work, school, or the local bar. He sits in a cube, wears inexpensive clothes and lives with a roommate in a low rent apartment. He is just a regular guy looking to have some fun with his circle of friends.
It works because they create affinity with the brand. I have a more positive image of Bud Light because I get a kick out of the commercial. In my head, I know the beer has not changed, but they have created an emotional connection.
Affinity and likeability are critical when creating and promoting a brand. At King Fish we profess that affinity leads to trust, which in turn leads to a customer taking an action. In a Private Media solution we use original content in a preferred environment to create that affinity, trust and action. In this case, Bud Light created that relationship by using content that speaks to men on a non-verbal, emotional level rather than trying to tell them the beer was superior tasting. A smart strategy when selling something that is basically a commodity.
Will this commercial lead people to buy more Bud Light? Even more, will it get people talking about Bud Light, creating a groundswell of awareness and brand equity? I bet it will, and I can’t wait to see what they do with the Dude guy next.