Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't promote your product

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the July 29, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger

Ad Nauseam

Advertising is a blend of two entirely different motivations.

The first is that of the people who make the product — the producers. Their motivation is simple: buy my product because I have rent due, mortgages to keep up, alimony payments in arrears, gambling debts to take care of, and hospital bills to cover if the gambling debts don’t get taken care of.

As you can tell, while producers have fairly basic needs (more money), many of them lead very complicated lives.

The second is the motivation of the people for whom the advertising is intended — the prospects. While the producers want one thing (money), the prospects want many, many things. And these things are seldom the products being offered by the producers. They want security, an ego-boost, romance, escape, power, a feeling of superiority, excitement, relaxation, and the knowledge that they are clever, capable, and able to leap over tall decisions with a single bound. Meanwhile, the producers are trying to sell them cars, refrigerators and coffee.

When advertising is fuelled by the producer’s motivation, its sole aim is to promote the product. “Buy this!” it shouts. “Buy now while supplies last!” “This is the best X in the world!” (or in our case, in Second Life). In a way, the naked appeal for money is touchingly innocent. To the producer, the money in a prospect’s pockets is self-evidently disposable since it isn’t doing anything really important — helping to pay the producer’s rent, mortgage, alimony payments, gambling debts, and hospital bills. It’s like a child who can’t understand why his parents would rather use their money for roof repairs than buying him a new Transformer toy.

The problem with promoting the product is that it offers nothing of interest to the prospect, who (heartless, indifferent person that he is) really doesn't give a damn about the producer’s personal problems.

For example, let’s look at coffee drinkers: specifically the young-to-middle-aged woman who, while reasonably content with her life, still harbours barely-recognized urges for something more exciting. She may be a house wife or an office worker, but when it comes to coffee, all she really wants is something hot and mildly stimulating to drink while she takes a break and escapes into the plot of her latest romance novel. Such a woman is remarkably resistant to the simple plea: “Buy my brand of coffee!”

But what if we make the coffee part of a romantic plot?

Between 1987 and 1993, the advertising agency of McCann-Erickson did exactly that with Nescafe’s Gold Blend instant coffee. Their television campaign, which aired over several years, told the story of a man and woman (Anthony Head and Sharon Maughan) who meet and romance each other over cups of coffee.

Corny? Yes. Effective? Definitely. Not only did the commercials result in an almost instant 10% increase of sales, they also inspired a novel, Love Over Gold, which became a best-seller.

McCann-Erickson identified a large demographic of coffee drinkers and then, instead of telling them, “Buy this coffee,” presented them with a well-crafted romantic story: a story that just happened to revolve around a particular brand of coffee. They weren’t selling Gold Blend; they were selling excitement and romance.

Of course it’s nice when we can combine the appeal to a prospect’s need or desire with clever creative work. But the appeal alone can be extremely powerful. Half a century ago Victor Schwab gathered together 100 of what he considered to be the most effective ad headlines. Here are a few of them:

“A little mistake that cost a farmer $3,000 a year”

“How a new discovery made a plain girl beautiful”

“When doctors ‘feel rotten,’ this is what they do”

“Five familiar skin troubles — which do you want to overcome?”

Certainly these ads don’t suffer from an excess of creativity, although David Ogilvy once said, “If it doesn't sell, it’s not creative.” The point is — they worked. While many of the headlines now sound dated (“Are we a nation of lowbrows?”), and some have become so hackneyed the modern reader would likely ignore them (“New shampoo leaves your hair smoother — easier to manage”), at the time, and for many years after, they hooked readers with their specific appeals to common needs. And even now, aren’t you a little bit curious about the “little mistake” that cost the farmer $3,000 a year, or what doctors do when they “feel rotten”?

Don’t promote the product. Identify what the product can do for the prospect and then promote the hell out of that. To return to Ogilvy: “When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire.” Who in their right minds would pay out good money for a fire extinguisher? The answer, of course, is anyone who associates it with security against a fire.

Take some time to figure out what your product can do for people. And not just “people,” but specific types of people. The Gold Bond coffee commercials were targeting a specific demographic. Had they been targeting a different demographic, say men between the ages of 18-24, they would have used a far different approach. What the advertising agency did was identify a need, and then position the coffee as a promise to fulfill that need.

Al Ries, the marketing wizard who was instrumental in introducing the concept of “positioning,” puts it another way. “Marketing doesn't deal with products,” he says. “Marketing deals with perceptions.”

What perceptions can your product match? What desire or need can it fulfill? When Black & Decker stopped trying to market power drills and started selling quarter inch holes, their sales soared. Lexus doesn't sell cars, they sell luxury. Coke doesn't sell pop, it sells tradition.

If you promote the promise, the product will make you money. If you promote the product, the money will be little more than a promise.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Second Life's not-so-secret treasure

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the July 22, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger

Ad Nauseam

Second Life’s not-so-secret treasure

Try to imagine the scene. It’s 1922. November 26. But there’s no winter chill in the air: with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the very idea of winter seems little more than a hallucination brought on by heat-induced delirium. We’re in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, a spot once favored for the burial of ancient pharaohs — until the pharaohs realized it was also favored by grave robbers and moved their treasure-filled tombs to more anonymous locations.

Although most Egyptologists are convinced the Valley of the Kings has been mined-out, Howard Carter is certain that a little-known king, Tutankhamen, is buried here. Following years of searching, he now stands before the doorway of a previously undiscovered tomb. With his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, standing beside him, he breaks open a small hole in the upper left corner and holds up a candle to test for noxious gasses. When the candle remains burning, showing that whatever else may lie within, the air at least has oxygen, he inserts the candle and looks inside.

“At first I could see nothing,” he later says, “but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold — everywhere the glint of gold.” For a while Carter doesn’t move, still trying to come to grips with the objects before him, objects which are not only shrouded in darkness, but which appear to be jumbled together with no regard for order. Finally Carnarvon, unnerved by Carter’s continuing silence, asks, “”Can you see anything?” Carter replies with one of the most famous lines in archaeological history: “Yes, wonderful things.”

Marketers have been searching for the treasure rumored to exist within Second Life for many years now, and still there are precious few who have peered within and, when asked if they can see anything, respond by saying, “Yes, wonderful things.”

Other virtual worlds appear capable of triggering this response. Certainly there is little difficulty in making out the wonderful things available in Habbo Hotel, Penguin Island, and the myriad other promotional treasure troves. So what makes Second Life such an enigma?

With apologies to Bill Clinton: “It’s the age group, stupid!”

Although virtual worlds are touted as being the playground of the young, Second Life stands out as one of the important exceptions. The “tweenies,” so profitable to the branding efforts in places like Penguin Island, are non-existent in Second Life. Anyone under 18 is relegated to a separate part of the grid. Furthermore, they make up a meagre 1% of the entire avatar count which in turn accounts for only .0.41% of the in world hours. So not only are they barely existent in Second Life, they are isolated and spend less time in world than any other demographic.

But what of that other sweet-spot demographic, the 18-24 year olds? The bad news is they make up a mere 23% of the avatars. The worse news is that they only account for 15% of the in world hours, a figure easily surpassed by those over 45 who make up 20%.

All in all, 75% of the avatars and 83% of the in world hours come from those between the ages of 25 and 90. In fact, those above 35 make up almost 50% of the time spent in world. Second Life, by and large, isn’t a playground for the young. But you’d hardly know it from the marketing forays.

Everyone from American Apparel to Much Music has made a bid for the youth flocking to Second Life without seeming to notice that it’s not youth who are doing the flocking.

And even when they do try targeting the more mature end of the population, the advertising companies generally muck it up. Is this because they’re still trying to come to grips with the vagaries of virtual worlds? Partly, but the fact is they’re screwing it up pretty badly in the real world too.

Chuck Nyren, an advertising consultant, makes some pretty compelling arguments that despite representing the largest disposable income of any group, those over 40 are poorly served by advertising. “advertising agencies are pretty much run by kids in their 20s and early 30s" he says in Advertising to Baby Boomers. Since “the general rule of thumb is that the best advertising is written to sell to yourself,” this means that “the wrong people are doing it” for the market.

Those of us who fall into the age bracket of 35 and older can understand what he’s talking about. Not long ago a Canadian bank created a number of TV spots designed to promote the idea that they were adapting to new demands from their older customers. “Can a bank change?” asked the ads, accompanied by different people holding up hand-made signs, an obvious reference to the Bob Dylan video, “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” This was accompanied by an instrumental version of Dylan’s anthem, “The Times They Are A’Changin’.”

The creative was undoubtedly the inspiration of some under-30 who wanted to bring the idea of a changing bank to an aging population grown resentful towards banking policies increasingly detrimental to non-corporate clients. The Dylan tune, “The Times, They Are A’Changin’,” seemed an obvious way to bring the message home. Of course, those of us actually familiar not only with the essential message of the original song, but also with its lyrics couldn’t help but feel the spots were revealing more truth than the agency had intended. The line, “You’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone,” seemed all too appropriate to the attitude banks had been displaying over the past couple of decades.

But it’s not just misapplied pop songs which expose an ad industry flailing in the dark when trying to reach its most lucrative market. The ads themselves show not only a complete lack of understanding of their target prospects, but with their frequent (to the point of ubiquitous) portrayal of adults as inept, bungling fools, they reveal a remarkable disdain toward them.

When you couple this broad, industry-wide incompetence with the uncertainties inherent in coping with the emerging markets of virtual worlds, the result is a hodgepodge of misinformed and disorganized advertising efforts that please no one.

There are treasures of enormous value to be mined from Second Life, but while those peering inside are trying to adjust to the unfamiliar light, they should bear in mind that like those discovered in King Tut’s tomb, these treasures have been around for a long time.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Second Life circa 4 BC

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the July 15, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger

Ad nauseam

Second Life circa 4 BC

“If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

I always understood Judas’ complaint in Jesus Christ: Superstar. If you’re going to promote a message concerning the afterlife of the human race, a message that determines whether they’ll spend eternity in a burning pit or a flower-scented paradise, why not do so at a time that it could reach the largest number of people? Why not do it in the 20th century when mass media really came into its own?

Mass media is a powerful tool, and sometimes a powerful weapon — although not nearly as powerful a weapon as cynics like to believe (there are too many voices involved for any one influence to make them all sing the same tune).

There has always been some form of mass media. Churches, visited by virtually the entire population, had the ability to pass along certain messages both religious and social. The printing press enabled ideas to spread to an entire population — or at least to the literate among them. But in the 20th century the pace picked up exponentially. New forms of communication came into being. Radio and television broadcasts could be retransmitted across an entire continent. When Jerry Seinfeld says, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” the phrase and its context become so widely known that it can now stand in as a handy and humorous reference to homosexuality. Even old-fashioned media take on new life with technology. A good example is the roadside sign.

In the early part of the 20th century the car increased in popularity. This meant that simple signs, little different from the one discovered in ancient Pompeii, acquired the potential of being seen by many thousands of people, thereby propelling a completely stationary medium to the edges of mass media. The Burma-Shave poems, each line of which was posted at appropriate distances along the highway, proved to be one of the most successful roadside campaigns of the pre-World War II period.

On curves ahead

Remember, sonny

That rabbit's foot

Didn't save

The bunny


Following WWII, however, gasoline prices dropped dramatically and industries previously dedicated to the war effort began turning out affordable automobiles. An entire generation of young adults grew accustomed to the idea of action and travel. As a result, America transformed into a nation of mass mobility. That scenic two-lane highway, winding its way through the countryside, was no longer adequate. Furthermore, with the threat of nuclear war hanging over the nation’s head, the two-lane highway was a death trap in the event of a civic evacuation.

In 1956, to meet both domestic and military demands, Congress gave its approval for the National Defense and Interstate Highway Act by which 42,000 miles of new four-lane highway would be built across the country.

These new highways brought about a drastic change in roadside advertising practices. Due to increased speed, and wider roadways, the small, personable signs such as the Burma-Shave ads, were no longer viable. To catch the attention of the new motorist, ads had to increase significantly in size, thereby giving birth to the billboard.

Judas recognized that the modern world afforded countless new methods of spreading a message which would be seen or heard by a vast majority of the country’s population. As he so accurately noted, “If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.”

Just like Jerry Seinfeld.

Of the modern world, however, the most modern aspect is the virtual world. If we’re impressed by the modern marvels of mass transportation, how much more impressive is teleportation? In a world in which an entire building can be erected in an afternoon by someone sitting at home in his pyjamas and slippers, the modernity of the world outside pales in comparison.

Yet there is a paradox in this: for all its cutting-edge, George-Jetson characteristics, Second Life has no mass media.

There is no medium in Second Life which is seen, heard or read by virtually the entire population. This, naturally, has an enormous effect on advertising. It’s the reason so many experts have written off the platform as having no significant marketing potential. It’s also the reason why so much of the advertising that’s done in world is done so badly.

But if that’s bad news, there’s worse to come: Second Life is unlikely to ever have mass media.

Mass media comes with its own internal contradiction. Despite its appeal to a major portion of the population, mass media is most often experienced in isolation. "Television is like the invention of indoor plumbing,” said Alfred Hitchcock. “It didn't change people's habits. It just kept them inside the house."

We watch television on our own or in small domestic groups. We read newspapers either at the dinner table or sitting alone in coffee shops. Many offices have a radio going, but the number of listeners in any given group averages no more than a dozen. Our mass media reaches us most when we are least engaged in activity.

Second Life, on the other hand, is a world of activity. Seldom do people come in world to sit at a virtual table and read a newspaper, or settle back in a virtual armchair and watch TV. We come in world to socialize, to build, to create, and yes, to have sex. Nowhere in all this activity is there room for a particular medium to gain mass appeal.

Whether this means that Second Life, as the nay-sayers have pronounced, is useless for marketing, or whether it will ultimately give rise to a new form is yet to be determined. But the stakes are high and not just for us.

The fact is that what has happened to mass media in Second Life is rapidly happening in the real world, if for far different reasons. As media becomes more fragmented in its demographics, its power as a mass communication is weakened. It’s entirely possible that more young people between the ages of 14 to 20 have seen the YouTube video of Star Wars Kid than have watched a single episode of the OC.

What we do in Second Life, and the solutions we find to this problem of patchwork media, will give help pave the way in the real world to new methodologies in marketing and advertising.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Who are you?

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the July 8, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger

Ad Nauseam

The whole time I was talking to Andrew Mallon I had the song, “Who are You?” running through my head; specifically, the version used in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

After eight seasons I still get a kick out of hearing Roger Daltry’s distinctive, rocking voice wailing over the opening credits. And the show, if not exactly fresh, has at least managed to stay engaging. It may be formulaic, and it may be overly stylish, but I generally like the story-lines, and always enjoy the glimpse into forensic science, even if none of them have the sense to wear hair nets when working with hair, fibre, and DNA evidence.

Plus it’s got Marg Helgenberger, whose gorgeous red hair is probably part of the reason they never wear hair nets.

The opening song obviously embodies the series’ central theme. A crime has been committed and the investigators must identify who committed it: “Who are you?”

Of course, as the team works to uncover the culprit, the viewer is forced to put up with a few commercials. Like 87.9% of the population (a reliable statistic I just now made up) I tend to mute them. Having an interest in advertising, however, I can’t help noticing a certain consistency in their nature, even if I’m not paying too much attention to their specific messages. Car ads lead the pack followed closely by prescription drugs (including Viagra), then the upscale department stores like J. C. Penney and Sears, and telephone plans like Sprint. In other words, there are no Xboxes, no toys, and certainly no meet-up chat lines.

The bulk of the CSI audience consists of upscale adults, and it’s obvious the sponsors know it: “Who are you?”

And that’s why the song was going through my head while talking to Andrew Mallon. With 30 years in business development, marketing, and advertising sales, Mallon is a leading expert in asking, “Who are you?”

As the creator of the Credit Union Technology Magazine, the first, and so far only, technology magazine focused on the credit union industry, he’s also an expert in new methodologies and techniques. Put them together and you have First Opinions — Mallon’s in world market research organization run by his Social Research Foundation.

While Linden Lab regularly produces demographic statistics, these tend to be elementary and crude: hardly the sort of thing Fortune 500 companies, which make up much of Mallon’s clientele, can rely on when initiating a marketing campaign. First Opinions, on the other hand, analyzes its members through 33 demographic and psychographic attributes dealing with both their real and their virtual lives.

With over 10,000 participants, 1,400 of whom own at least one group, Mallon not only can provide ready-made statistics concerning the makeup of the Second Life population but also deliver a wide range of specific demographics for focus group studies.

“One client wanted beer drinkers in Second Life,” he says. Another, a television network, wanted U.S. citizens who watched TV. “Their aim was to create samples of their shows in world and try to figure out why they weren’t getting the ratings.”

Unfortunately, the writer’s strike interfered with that particular plan.

Signing up for First Opinions is free. There are a fair number of questions to answer after which you’re eligible to be called upon for focus groups looking for people exactly like you. There is a small remuneration of $L100 which assures that those taking part are doing so out of interest, and not for the money.

The First Opinion studies aren’t to be confused with the casual surveys promoted under the “Hippy Pay” kiosks dotting the landscape of Second Life. First Opinion deals with top marketers interested in getting accurate information from exactly the people they’re targeting. “One client wanted nothing but CEOs in Second Life. I was able to hand him about a dozen,” said Mallon.

Nobody else is presently engaged in the kind of work Mallon is doing with First Opinions: giving marketers specific demographics for research. As for Linden Lab, they barely seem to even understand the need. “I asked for a list of exhibitors for the Second Life birthday display and they told me they didn’t have one because it might infringe on privacy. Isn’t that the meaning of ‘exhibitor’? To exhibit?”

We all know that marketing can be annoying, but the less a company knows about its audience, the more annoying the marketing will be. If you want some input in the process, I highly recommend that you go to the Social Research Foundation’s website, click on the First Opinions tab near the top of the page, and sign on.

You’ll be helping to keep Second Life free of wrong-headed advertising.

Social Research Foundation is located at http://www.socialresearchfoundation.org.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Talking with the advertising giants

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the July 1, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger

Ad Nauseam
By Holman Tibbett

For a change of pace I’ve rounded up the most famous and respected names in the history of advertising for a panel discussion of the nature, philosophy, and methodology of good marketing.

The fact that almost all of them are dead is an added bonus since it means they can’t sue me.

We’ll begin with Michael Maynard, Chair of the Department of Advertising at Temple University. Sir, what would you say is the essence of advertising?

“Advertising is the poetry of Capitalism.”

Really? That’s rather high praise. Bruce Barton, you were chairman of BBDO back in its heyday, would you agree with Mr. Maynard?

“Advertising is of the very essence of democracy.”

How do you figure?

“An election goes on every minute of the business day across the counters of hundreds of thousands of stores and shops where the customers state their preferences and determine which manufacturer and which product shall be the leader today, and which shall lead tomorrow.”

Okay, I guess you have a point there. What about you, David Ogilvy? Do you think advertising is as exalted as your companions?

“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.”

Well, that sounds down-to-earth. Let’s move on to our next question: “What is the most important element to making an ad successful? Dr. Charles Edwards? We’ll start this round with you.

“The more facts you tell, the more you sell. An advertisement’s chance for success invariably increases as the number of pertinent merchandise facts included in the advertisement increases.”

Facts? In the industry known for lying? I’m sure that while they may add value to an ad, the ad’s style is at least equally important. You’d agree, wouldn’t you Mr. Ogilvy?

“What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.”

So you’re saying…what, exactly?

“What you say in advertising is more important than how you say it.”

Adolph S. Ochs, we haven’t heard anything from you yet. How do you respond to this rather surprising assertion?

“Advertising in the final analysis should be news. If it is not news it is worthless.”

I have to admit to being puzzled. If so many advertising men, leaders in the field, agree that facts and honesty are the heart and soul of advertising, why do we end up with so many patently dishonest ads? Mr. Ogilvy, we’ll continue with you.

“Most agencies run scared, most of the time.”

You’re referring to the tendency of clients to fire agencies on a whim, of course. Sometimes even when the product is selling well and the advertising is scoring high in effectiveness. What is the result of this?

“Frightened people are powerless to produce good advertising.”

Is there anything that could be done?

“If I were a client, I would do everything in my power to emancipate my agencies from fear, even to the extent of giving them long-term contracts.”

So basically you’re saying that one of the major problems to producing good ads is actually the client? Would you agree, Mr. Burnett?

“I have learned that trying to guess what the boss or the client wants is the most debilitating of all influences in the creation of good advertising.”

What advice would you give to clients in dealing with their agencies? Yes, Mr. Ogilvy?

“Do not compete with your agency in the creative area. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?”

Well, we’re almost out of time, so let me ask just one more question which I will direct to David Ogilvy, who has served as something of a spokesman tonight.

Mr. Ogilvy, what advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a good ad writer?

“Many people — and I think I am one of them — are more productive when they’ve had a little to drink. I find if I drink two or three brandies, I’m far better able to write.”

Well, at least that part of the myth is true.

Thank you all.


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