Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ad Nauseam now at Wordpress

I've moved all of Ad Nauseam to Wordpress. Nothing against Blogger -- it's a great package -- but there were templates at Wordpress I liked better than the somewhat limited selection here.

You can reach the new Ad Nauseam here.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

• Adventures in Advertising: This Is a Recording

I should come clean and admit that this post is appearing in both Ad Nauseam and Editor's Sidebar since it deals with both advertising and editing. 

Hey, why waste a good post?

Many years ago, I worked at a small start-up magazine. The owner and publisher, Peter, was adamant about the need for advertisers if we wanted to grow our business.

Of course, back then we didn't actually say, "grow our business." We might "increase our business," or our business might grow. But the idea of "growing" a business hadn't made its way into the vernacular yet. However, if it had, Peter would have said it. I've never liked the expression, although I'm hard pressed to explain why. You "grow" corn. You "grow" turnips. But damn it, you don’t "grow the farm." Likewise, your children "grow," but you don't "grow your children."

I'm not sure what the difference is, but it still sounds wrong to me.

It's kind of like prepositions. If I said, "I'm going to Montreal on a bus," you wouldn't think anything of it. Well, you might think, "That's a hell of a long bus ride," but that's about all. You might think, "Why is he going to Montreal when everything he could ever want is right here in Toronto?" but other than that, it wouldn't seem odd. 

On the other hand, if I said, "I'm going to Montreal on a car," then you'd think I was going to make the trip strapped to the roof, like some dead grandmother in an urban legend. 

Why "on" a bus, but "in" a car? Only the language gods know for sure.

And maybe Noam Chompsky. He knows everything. Or thinks he does.

At any rate, there was no question Peter was right about one thing: without advertisers, we'd go belly-up inside of four months.

Our only disagreement was how to go about getting these advertisers. Peter thought that cold calls were the answer. We'd simply call every business in the area and convince them to place an ad.

My plan was to take the magazine to the businesses most likely to have an interest in it and pitch them.

In the end, we decided that cold-calling was the best way to get Peter off my back.

Our other disagreement revolved around who was going to do the cold-calling. 

Since I was already doing layout, writing, editing, photography, research, and re-wiring the phones to give us two lines without the phone company knowing about it (a task for which I was eminently unsuited and in which I failed to accomplish anything other than discovering first-hand that telephone lines carry much more juice than you might think), I kind of figured maybe someone else could do it. Someone like -- and I was just spinning thoughts off the top of my head -- the receptionist whose job consisted of answering the phone twice a day. On a busy day. 

Except during that unfortunate period of time when the phone wasn't working.

To Peter, however, the only person capable of making effective cold calls was me. My protestations that I was already over-worked, and had absolutely no talent in calling people for ads, only served to bring out the positive thinker in him. I was selling myself short, he told me. After all, with absolutely no training, hadn't I rewired the phones to give us two lines without the phone company knowing about it?

Well, no. In fact, we'd had to bring in the phone company to fix the phone -- after telling them that the wiring had been mucked up during renovations.

Naturally, in the end I did the cold-calling.

After several days without a single response, Peter finally figured out what the problem was.

It wasn't that we were calling completely random businesses without regard to their nature or need for magazine advertising.

It wasn't that we were trying to commit them to a sizeable outlay on the basis of nothing more than a voice on the phone (a phone which, on my end at least, had an annoying buzz in the line).

No, the problem was that since the message was being given by a live person, it was bound to have variations in tone and pitch, which threw off the scientific effectiveness of the cold call.

What was needed was consistency. He'd read research about it.

The answer, of course, was a pre-recorded message and automatic dialling system.

Unfortunately, we had no automatic dialling system, having barely escaped with one working phone after the repairman had initially expressed doubts that the wiring could have become screwed up in that particular way from renovations -- especially when there were no signs of renovations having been done in the last 30 years. Nor did we have a means of recording anything by way of the phone itself. Our only recourse was to use a tape recorder. One of us (and by "one of us," of course, I mean me) would record a message, then for each call place the receiver near the recorder and play it back.

What? I'm serious. I'm telling you -- I was there.

Anyhow, Peter wrote out a carefully worded message, and that night I spent a couple of hours reading and re-reading it into the tape recorder. The next morning, when I was sure he was in the office, I got him on the line and played it for him. When it was finished, I asked him what he thought.

He'd hung up.

And right then I learned one of the most important lessons in advertising: If even the client can't sit through the ad, it's probably not going to work.

The other lesson I learned was that without advertising, a magazine can go belly-up in even less than four months.

It only took us three.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

• What social marketing can learn from learner-centered education

If a lot of the philosophical language surrounding the new social network marketing sounds vaguely familiar, it should: we've heard it all before from the good folks in the educational field.

Beginning in the late sixties, picking up force in the seventies, and becoming the foundation of pedagogy in the eighties, the "learner-centered" approach to education called for a shift of control from teachers to students. The idea was that students were in a better position to know how they learned than were the teachers. Given the freedom to do so, students would essentially teach themselves, while the teachers simply provided the resources. To reflect this new approach, teachers were no longer "teachers," but "facilitators," while students became "learners." Lessons were no longer meant to be uni-directional, with one person standing in front of the class imparting information, but to be multi-directional, a "dialogue" in which the ideas and thoughts of the students were of equal, if not more importance than the authoritative course material.

Much the same has been occurring in the realm of social network marketing. Its proponents insist that the consumer is better positioned to know which advertising techniques work, and which don't. We are to move away from simply broadcasting information about our product or service in an authoritative and uni-directional fashion, choosing instead to engage in "conversations," the content of which is driven as much by the public as by the company trying to sell to them.

And how has this worked?

Well, in the educational field, it turned out that when you asked students (sorry, "learners") the most effective way of teaching them (sorry, "facilitating their education"), they responded by telling us to either entertain them, or leave them alone. Course curriculum became subject to whatever pop-culture trends were enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame at any given time, and classroom instruction turned into classroom discussions in which the only opinions that counted were those of the "learners."

Speaking as a college prof who is tasked with trying to teach the products of this system how to write a coherent sentence, I'd have to say it's been less than a resounding success. 
"After that I applied for [name of college] and had to write a English test to get in and believe it or not I passed with an excellent mark they even called me to welcome and congratulate me into the program, yeah I was just as surprised as you" (personal essay from student, aged 23)
The profound illiteracy and lack of general knowledge with which we're faced on a daily basis is disturbing -- not to mention debilitating to our motivation. The multi-billion dollar educational system is a sham, and we know it; but there's nothing we can do about it. Too much has been invested in the philosophy, and those most fully indoctrinated in it (public and high school teachers) are hardly likely to suddenly admit it's all been a big mistake. Meanwhile, those of us with the least indoctrination are in the post-secondary institutions, and therefore unable to bring about meaningful change where it would do the most good -- in the lower grades when students' minds are still open to learning.

In the advertising industry, things are showing signs of going in much the same direction. It turns out that when you ask consumers (sorry, "participants") the most effective way of advertising to them (sorry, "engaging them in brand conversations"), their response is eerily similar to that of the students: either entertain us, or leave us alone. In place of uni-directional ads, they want YouTube videos which can be remixed and redistributed to their friends. Instead of information about product features, price, and availability, they want to see the CEO of the company sending out 140 character Tweets about the boring meeting he's in. 

Speaking as an advertising commentator, I'd have to say that this, too, has been less than a resounding success. Despite the millions of words praising the effectiveness of social network marketing, there have been shockingly few examples of anything approaching a decent return on investment. Where companies set up their own social networking platforms, the only visitors they get are those already committed to the brand: which is fine, but the very nature of such platforms encourages confrontation, and those visitors can easily take offense if their comments or incidental complaints aren't dealt with in the fashion they expect. And where the brands are trying to invade pre-existing social networks, they open themselves up to mischievous attacks which have a far higher potential of going viral than do the brands' feeble attempts at being "hip."

The danger, of course, is that advertising, like education, will find itself overly-committed to a system that simply doesn't work; but which nobody is willing to step away from.

Students don't want to go to school, and if you ask them to redesign it to their liking, you end up with a social club. Likewise, consumers don't want advertising, and if you ask them to redesign it to their liking, you end up with...well, a social club.


Monday, May 4, 2009

• Best Before #1

Welcome to "Best Before," a semi-regular feature in which we look at advertising tropes that are long past their best before date -- if they ever had one to begin with.

The customer as moron

The concept

Upon using the client's product or service, the consumer is overcome with an inability to function in a normal fashion. He or she (generally he) becomes incapable of normal social interaction, loses all interest in sex, and is often oblivious to physical danger.


  • Arby's: A young couple sits by the side of a lake at night. When the beautiful woman suggests a dip and runs to the water taking off her clothes, her boyfriend repeats the word "dip" a couple of times and then drives off for an Arby's beef dip sandwich.
  • Casino Rama: Another man, another attractive woman, another lake. After having spent the night at Casino Rama, the man is unable to pay attention to her because...well, it's not clear, really. At one point we see the world through his eyes and there's a vague bright spot in the centre of his vision but at another point he asks if the cloud doesn't look like a motorocycle. Not only is it insulting, but it makes no sense.
  • A&W: A young man is so enraptured by the burger he's eating that he completely fails to notice the young woman flirting with him, and uses the napkin on which she has written her phone number to wipe his mouth. (I've already written about A&W dumbing-down what started out as an intelligent, mature, and amusing campaign.)

The problem

Is it even necessary to spell it out? Maybe there's a point to portraying those who don't use your product as stupid, although perhaps insulting the people you're trying to seduce has its drawbacks. But where is the logic in making your own customers look like idiots?

Common sounds making a rhythmic tune

The concept

A series of natural taps, bangs, or other sounds combine to form a tune or distinct rhythm.


  • Maxwell House: The first, and probably most effective, would have to be the Maxwell House percolator. This was so successful that while it hasn't been aired for decades (percolators having been replaced with drip), those of us old enough to have grown up with the original ads can still remember the tune.
  • Folgers: More recently, Folgers has tried to duplicate the phenomenon. As a couple prepares breakfast in the kitchen, each item they put down adds another "note" to the tune. Unfortunately, the Folgers "tune" is not particularly distinctive and it takes repeated viewings for the intent to become clear.
  • Can't remember: In a remarkably forgettable commercial, the entire family beats out a pointless rhythm and then they all look extremely pleased with themselves.

The problem

While there's nothing wrong with the actual concept, making it work takes real genius, and there's just not a lot of that going around. The Maxwell House ads succeeded because the tune was catchy and the creation of the tune (a percolator) was directly tied to the product. None of the ads since have managed to pull off the same formula. Until they do, it's time to put this one to bed.

Our product sucks, but it's much better now

The concept

In an honest recognition that the company's product has been inferior in the past, these commercials ask the consumer to give it another shot, with the promise that it has vastly improved.


  • Ford: For over 25 years now, Ford has been begging the public to give it another chance. "Have you driven a Ford...lately?" is the longest-running incarnation of this plea. "We know that in the past our cars have pretty much fallen apart while driving off the lot," they're saying, "but it's all fixed now...really."
  • Oldsmobile: While it wasn't plagued with the same history of mechanical breakdowns as Ford, the Oldsmobile was burdened with the reputation of being an old man's car -- and the name didn't help. In an effort to make it more hip, they launched a campaign claiming, "This isn't your father's Oldsmobile," then went bankrupt a short time later.
  • Microsoft: Blatantly acknowledging that Vista was the biggest mistake since Windows 2000, Microsoft tried to win the hearts and minds of consumers with an incredibly transparent campaign called "The Mojave Experiment." In it, people were introduced to Vista under the name "Mojave" and, when they saw it running on high-end, perfectly-configured machines, many declared that they liked it. Real consumers, oddly enough, weren't fooled.

The problem

While it may seem like a good idea to be honest and admit to past failures, in real life it seldom does anything more than remind everyone about your past failures. More importantly, those coming to your brand with no previous knowledge of its past performance will learn to distrust it from your own ads. Your best bet? Improve the product from the ground up, then start advertising it on its features. Ignore the past.

That's it for this edition of Best Before. We'll have another in the future. If you have any suggestions for campaign concepts that really need to be taken down from the shelf, feel free to e-mail them to me. I'll give full credit.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

• Marketing Heroes: Michael Scataloon

In this semi-regular feature we celebrate those unsung heroes of the marketing world who, faced with products that seemed impossible to market, succeeded in defying the odds to create highly successful campaigns.

Marketing Hero #1:
Michael Scataloon

Due to a malfunction in the computers that ran their cutting machines back in the early '80s, a clothing manufacturer accidentally churned out hundreds of thousands of pants with crotches that came down to the knees. Faced with the expense of discarding all this material, the owner of the company took the problem to his ad agency, Dayton, Darton, Burnsten and O'Reilly (DDBO) to see if they could work some magic. Michael Scataloon was a lowly intern at the time, but he was positive he could sell the damaged inventory if given a chance. Since DDBO had nothing to lose, they agreed to put him in charge.

"I knew traditional approaches weren't going to work," Scataloon said in a recent interview with New Pathways in Marketing, "so I set out to explore some nontraditional approaches. We didn't have the formal concept of 'viral' campaigns back then, but essentially that's what I was after. I just needed to define the right demographic. It had to be a demographic with absolutely no fashion sense. Naturally I decided on the rap culture. I figured any group that could base a musical culture around the absence of music, while dressing themselves in cartoon clothing and jewellery was the perfect prospect for our client's pants."

Scataloon approached a couple of rap stars (even today he won't say who they were) and offered a substantial amount of money if they would wear the malformed apparel at some of their public appearances. They weren't eager to take him up on it, however. 

"Here they were, dressed in ludicrously huge, rhinestone-studded sunglasses, gold chains that looked like they'd come from the paste-jewellery counter of a 1940s Kresges, and multi-coloured bandanas with pork-pie hats on top, and they were balking at wearing these pants. Well, I didn't blame them. I had to up the ante considerably before I finally won them over. A few concerts later, however, and suddenly the 'diaper pants' (as our client had taken to calling them), were selling by the hundreds, then thousands. At the end of two months he was sold out."

Scataloon himself was somewhat puzzled by the enormous success, having started with no real marketing philosophy. "I was just banking on the lemming-like behaviour of teens and young adults to emulate their musical heroes." In retrospect, however, he thinks the pants just happened to make a statement which appealed to the members of that particular sub-culture. 

"Rappers would travel from place to place doing marathon battles with other rappers, so on the one hand they had to be mobile, and yet on the other, they had to be able to stand their ground for long periods of time. The pants said: 'When wearing me, you can travel anywhere.' But they also said: "When wearing me, you won't have to move from this spot for a week -- even to use the bathroom.'"

That the campaign was successful is indisputable. It was originally intended to last only until the damaged inventory had been sold off, but the client and the agency soon realized they had a gold-mine on their hands. There were even rumours of a movie being made about the phenomenon.

"I was approached by a Hollywood screenwriter," recalls Scataloon. "He put together a script and shopped it around, but ultimately nothing came of it. I think it was called something like, 'The Cisternhood of the Traveling Pants.'"


Thursday, April 30, 2009

• Another example of how social marketing can damage brands

I should be upfront and admit that I don't like Oprah. I can't say why, exactly. Maybe it's her ostentatious displays of generosity. Maybe it's her insistence that everyone show exactly the same upbeat attitude she purports to have. Maybe it's the feeling that her conversion from shock-show host to moral leader of the multitudes and maven of modern literature was predicated on sagging ratings. Maybe it's just that I distrust anyone who can sway the feelings and opinions of millions of people.

Whatever the reason, it certainly isn't because I feel she has somehow personally betrayed me.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of her social network followers.

The Silicon Valley Insider reports that although she's only been Tweeting for a shot period of time, and boasts one of the largest followings, "she is already bored" with the experience. "In total, she's sent 20 tweets in 11 days. Almost half are from April 17, Oprah's first day on Twitter, when Ashton Kutcher and Twitter CEO Evan Williams appeared on her show ."1

This defection does not sit well with some. "The reason why Oprah lost on Twitter is because of her lack of commitment to engage her community," says Craig Daitch of Advertising Age.2 "She could give away a G6, sell subscriptions to her magazine and bring huge A-Listers to her show every day -- but being asked to participate in conversation is much different than being asked to spark conversation."

In other words, while these people once loved Oprah because she gives away millions of dollars for social programs, supports worthy causes, provides a role model for women, and encourages  literacy, now they are turning against her because she's not spending enough time keeping them updated on her latest meal.

Of course, this backlash is quite mild and unlikely to affect her overall status as the Woman God Sent to Straighten out the World. But in a nutshell, it illustrates one of the most serious problems posed by social network marketing: When your product or service becomes a member of a community, its value becomes dependent upon its participation within that community. As part of the "consumer conversation," so beloved of modern marketers, what it says counts for much more than what it actually does.

It no longer matters how well your product cleans dishes, kills germs, improves your looks or handles on the road, once it's part of the great communal conversation the only thing that counts is how well it can talk. While consumers of old (read, 20 years ago) might have become annoyed if their pain reliever didn't work, modern consumers are ready to become personally insulted at a misguided, but transient commercial on TV: as Motrin found out to their chagrin. 3 The Motrin ad, which incautiously spoke about Moms wearing babies in slings as a fashion accessory, was released as a viral campaign, and the resultant viral backlash turned into a digital pandemic. Those who would otherwise never have seen the offending video were told about it (with links) by their community members and encouraged to take part in the outcry. In trying to join the online community, the company found itself outcast, reviled, and with a large scarlet letter sewn on its chest.

Of course, if it hadn't taken its campaign online, those who felt the need to be offended would still have been able to blog and Twitter about it, and this kind of adverse publicity can attain a critical mass on occasion. In general, however, the isolated nature of these outlets keeps nuisance complaints limited and relatively harmless. But when the company voluntarily either creates or joins a social network, it provides a central pavilion in which every crackpot with an axe to grind can bring his soapbox and be heard. Furthermore, because of the direct connection between the platform and the company, those who gather within it have a natural expectancy that they should be heard and responded to.

Businesses have always had the responsibility to deal with customer complaints and listen to unsolicited suggestions. That's how companies grow. But the social marketing sphere is an echo chamber which so magnifies every casual and meaningless comment that the resultant din can threaten the company's very foundations -- like a digital version of Joshua's trumpeters bringing down the walls of Jerico.

Whatever benefits there may be in marketing through social media, and to date the success stories are still vastly outnumbered by the failures, when things go wrong, they do so in a spectacular fashion.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Social network marketing is like sending a company salesman into a Friday-night frat party, and it's not exactly surprising if he gets stripped to his underwear, hung upside down, and covered in beer.

1. Fromm, Dan (2009, April 28).Oprah already bored with Twitter. Silicon Alley Insider, Retrieved April 30, 2009. [Return to text]

2. Daitch, C. (2009, April 28).@Oprah already bored with Twitter? So what?. Siilicon Alley Insider, Retrieved April 30, 2009. [Return to text]

3. Havenstein, H. (2008, Nov. 18). Motrin maker feels pain from social media backlash. TechWorld, Retrieved April 30, 2009. [Return to text]


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

• Before and After. Before and After. See how that goes?

The old "before and after" technique has been around for a long time. Take a look at this advertising card from a century or so back. See the left-hand panel which shows how much trouble the mother has as she tries to give her children the dreaded "old style of medicine": castor oil? Now see the right-hand panel which shows them lining up for the "new style of medicine": Hamburg Figs? Hell, even the dog is trying to get into the act. 

There's something about this particular advertising ploy that is timeless. It appeals to our need to see the results of a product. "Here is the way your life used to be," it tells us, "but now look at how it could be."

Generations have grown up seeing the "before and after" of cosmetics, cleaners, diet aids, vitamin supplements, hair tonics, and underarm deodorants. 

There are, of course, variations. There's the product comparison, for instance: "their" product versus "our" product. And then there's the contrast between those who don't use our product and those who do.

But all of them share the same basic idea of "before and after." 

Now with that in mind, what is wrong with this "before and after" picture?

Right! It's an "after and before" picture. Not a "before and after." 

And there seem to be a lot more of them than there used to be.

Now admittedly, it only takes a moment to figure out which is the "before" and which is the "after." And perhaps that's fine for print ads (no, it isn't, but we'll let that pass), however, when you're dealing with TV, in which the shot may only last for a few seconds, it can be downright confusing.

One of the worst offenders I've been seeing is a television commercial for a pickup truck (I don't remember which one, and while I could look it up or wait until I saw it again, I figure it's not my job to dig out the name of a product from an ad). The main selling point for this truck is its smooth ride, which they illustrate in a rather clever way: a split screen showing the road from inside the cab of two trucks -- the featured truck and a competitor. 

The problem is, the shaky, jittery scene is on the right while the smooth, steady scene is on the left. To the viewer, it looks as though the advertised product (which, by tradition, is always on the right) bounces like a wooden cart plummeting down the side of a gravel quarry. 

Does that matter? Well, it took me a couple of viewings to realise what the point of the shot was. I have to imagine that other people faced the same bewilderment when they first saw it.

There are conventions in advertising that have been worked out over the past 100 years. It doesn't do anyone any good to circumvent them (unless, of course, you know exactly what you're doing).

For instance: 
  • when the selling point of your product is visual, show the product, don't talk about it or show people's faces.
  • when your product is cheaper than others, show the price.
  • when your product has the potential to appeal to a large number of people, don't put your ads on media used by a small demographic
And of course: Before goes on the left! After goes on the right!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

• New Directions Advertising Symposium summary

Earlier this month one of the most important events in social network marketing took place when the New Advertising Directions Symposium was held in Chicago. Here, in its entirety, is the story from The New Marketing magazine.

The New Marketing Magazine
Chicago, April 1, 2009
It takes NADS to promote the new marketing

Walter "The Buzz" Vaine, president, NADS
This past Wednesday saw the first annual conference sponsored by the New Advertising Directions Symposium. Aimed at exploring the expanding opportunities offered by the new media, the symposium is in direct opposition to the assumptions of traditional advertising methodologies.

This discrepancy between the new and old generations was apparent from the moment Walter (The Buzz) Vaine, president of NADS, strode out to greet the crowd, none of whom appeared to be over 35.

“The Old Guard were all about ‘effectiveness’ and ‘sales,’” said Vaine. “We now know that our job goes far beyond these primitive goals, reaching out to the very consciousness of the consumer. No longer do we measure our results in the number of widgets, whatnots, or whatevers that our campaigns sell; instead we look for the ‘conversation,’ the ‘buzz,’ and the ‘insight.’ It is our job to e-enable real-time communities and matrix interactive experiences.

"Or to put it another way, as the motto of the New Advertising Directions Symposium says: ‘The old school had guts, but we’ve got NADS!’”

One of the bold new concepts of the New Marketing is the “Brand Footprint.”

“The brand is everything,” said Vaine. “Rid yourselves of the obsolete idea that consumers are interested in the product. They’re not; they’re interested in the brand, as our research has repeatedly proven. Every time we ask them brand-related questions, whether it be in focus groups, electronic surveys, or on-site questionnaires, consumers invariably respond with brand-related answers. It is the brand, not the product, that we want strutting through their consciousness — and the bigger the footprint it leaves behind, the better.”

The Brand Footprint has become one of the fastest-growing ideas in the marketing industry. While conventional advertising concentrates on making products stand out by drawing attention to their features, the Brand Footprint concentrates on promoting the brand itself, often to the exclusion of the actual product.

“In the Brand Footprint,” Vaine explained, “information about a specific product represents, at the most, the little toe, whereas the ‘sole,’ if you will, consists of the branding. And one of the key points of branding is to keep the brand fresh. Clients have a tendency to become comfortable with a particular name, for example. You need to shake them out of it. Consider the great campaign presently being done changing the name of Electrosol to — well, I can’t remember right now. But that’s a campaign that is doing its ad agency proud.”

Another approach much valued by the New Marketers is Social Marketing, which employs various online social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Whenever you have people talking,” Vaine told his listeners, “you have the chance to walk through their conversations and leave your footprints behind. People join these sites to socialize, but as we can tell by the meandering nature of their conversations, they’re in desperate need of something interesting to talk about. That’s where we come in.”

The three-day conference featured a host of speakers lecturing on a variety of New Market topics. These included William Leakey on, “Making Them Guess: Engaging Consumers Through Ambiguity”; Jill Whedon, who spoke on “Conversing with the Twits: The Strength of Social Marketing”; and Richard Baylee who drew the most enthusiastic response with his seminar, “The ROI is Dead, Long Live the Conversation,” in which he extolled the “democratization of the marketing process.”

The symposium, as befitted the subject matter, was promoted through social marketing. The Facebook page, “Sign up now for NADS,” had 105,492 friends, and “NADSinApril” on Twitter had 78,345 followers. As a result of this promotion, the number of attendees could barely squeeze into the symposium’s meeting place in the basement of St. Mary’s Baptist Church, which only has seating for 45 people.

When asked if we could expect to see another symposium in the future, Vaine said, “With a social-networking promotional success like this, I think you can count on it.”


Monday, April 20, 2009

Social Marketing: Kmart goes to the Twits

As promised, today we're looking at one of social marketing's success stories.

At the start of the 2008 Christmas season, Izea decided to try their hand at social marketing for Kmart.  Their goals were: awareness, brand perception, education, traffic, and insight.

Right at the start you should be seeing a couple of red flags. First of all, what keeps Kmart alive? Is it public awareness of their stores? Is it an educated consumer? And just what the hell does "insight" mean?

No, what keeps Kmart alive is the volume of their sales. And "sales," you may note, is not one of the goals of this campaign. That's probably a good thing; makes it much harder to declare the campaign a failure.

What Izea did was to take six "influential bloggers, each of whom received a $500 Kmart gift card along with another $500 gift card which they could give away to a selected reader. Each of these bloggers (with full disclosure on the "sponsored nature of the post") then had to write a blog post about "their shopping experience" with their gift card, and host a contest to give away the second gift card. To enter the contest, their readers were told to go on a "virtual shopping spree" at the website, then come back and list what they would buy if they won the gift certificate.  They could enter a second time by means of a "specified Tweet on Twitter," thereby ensuring "that news of the contest appeared in the timelines of over 2.5 million direct followers." Meanwhile, over on SocialSpark, which connects bloggers with blog marketers, bloggers were "given the paid opportunity to run ads on their blogs promoting any one of the six primary bloggers in the campaign."

So then, you have six primary bloggers along with their readers, community bloggers on SocialSpark being paid to send traffic to these bloogers, and news of the contest going out to 2.5 million Twitterers ( Tweets? Twits?).

What was the result?

"By the time the contest period ended," says Wendy Piersall, one of the six primary bloggers, "there were 3,481 comments left across the 6 blog posts, and over 3200 Twittered contest entries. Most impressively, Kmart (green line indicator) increased their Social Media Index as measured by Vitrue a whopping 59%, outpacing parent company Sears and completely overtaking JC Penney."

Have you got that? 3,481 comments and 3,200 Tweets. Did any of these people buy anything at Kmart? Well, we suppose the commenters who won the extra gift cards probably did. and maybe a few more people went to the company web site -- possibly as many as 6,000 or so, although we have to remember that the 3,200 Twits didn't go to the site, they merely reposted a Twit, or some such thing. Still. They may have gone. Can't prove they didn't.

And then we have to remember the Vitrue figures showing Kmart's Social Media Index was 59%, which basically means that those people who use social media stood a decent chance of being exposed to the campaign. 

As far as meeting its goals went, the campaign was a success. Not sure about the "insight" section, but since we still don't know what it means -- what the hell, we'll consider that a success too.

Did they sell a single item more than they would have without the campaign? I don't know. Neither do they. When it comes to social network marketing, success comes in being able to do it -- not whether it actually boosts sales. I would presume they did. It's most likely that some of those 6,000 or so people may have gone to Kmart and picked up something. But let's keep this in perspective: that's a possible fraction of 6,000 people for a company that has a yearly sales figure in the tens of billions of dollars. If each of the 6,000 people went to Kmart and bought $100 worth of merchandise, that would represent roughly three and a half one hundredths of one percent of their revenue. (To be precise, it would be 0.003529411764705882% -- but let's not get picky.)

The upside, of course, is that these social marketing experiments don't cost much -- but neither are they as inexpensive as their proponents would like us to believe, and they still take up time and resources.

Does this mean that social marketing is without value? No, merely that whatever value it may have remains still largely unproven by any measurement that doesn't include "insight" or "brand identification." Furthermore, for smaller companies, especially entrepreneurial operations, social marketing can prove remarkably effective (but that's a topic for another post).

The real point here is simply this: social network marketing is a vast, unproven, and problematic field. Don't get rushed into forgoing real advertising in favour of pie-in-the-sky schemes.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sure, advertising works - but what about social network marketing?

Let's get one thing straight: virtually all commercials work -- to some extent or another. Putting a picture of a product in front of a gazillion people every day of the week is going to raise awareness of the product and result in some added sales. 

Every commercial works...whether you hate it or love it. There isn't a commercial made that somebody doesn't claim is "absolutely hillarious," even as millions of others condemn it as "the most fucked up piece of shit" they've ever seen.

Okay, a few ads don't work, the most notable being public service ads meant to keep kids from smoking, drinking or doing drugs. So effective, in fact, are some of these PSAs at doing exactly the opposite of what they're supposed to do that Philip Morris has been accused of sponsoring an anti-smoking campaign for the express purpose of increasing sales of its product. It may be true, but it's hard to know why that particular campaign was picked on when all the others seem to be equally guilty in their own areas. Were the notroiously ineffective anti-pot ads secretly paid for by the Association of American Gro-ops?

So why did these ads fail in their stated intent? Because they were trying to do the impossible: they were publicising the very products they were discouraging. Even the ancients knew how well something like that would work. "Hey Adam, here's a tree with the fruit of knowledge. I'm just showing this to you so you won't eat from it." "Happy birthday, Pandora. I've given you a box, but whatever you do, don't open it."

PhotobucketVacuum packed shit to seal in fresheness

All commercials work. If you put up ads for feces you would undoubtedly find buyers. Oh, wait...installation artist Wim Delvoye has already done this with his Cloaca machine, a complex system of containers which replicates an animal's digestive track complete with real poo coming out the other end. The poo is then vaccuum packed and sold.

Anyway, the point is this: in the wild and wooly mix of humanity, you can always find somebody, or even several somebodies, who will buy pretty well anything...if they know about it. And they will know about it through advertising. I could create an ad selling three-year-old uncooked eggs and likely find buyers.

So if you're asking, "Does the advertising I'm doing work?" the answer will be yes. No matter how bad your ads, you will undoubtedly be getting at least one more customer than you would without them.

The real question, however, is whether or not the advertising justifies its ROI. I might be able to find ten buyers for my three-year-old, uncooked eggs, but if I have to advertise to 50 million people, the cost probably won't be worth it.

This is obvious.

At least it's obvious unless you're talking about social network marketing. Social network marketing is a brand of marketing all its own, in which the goals include anything other than actual sales.

Next post we'll look at one of the more successful, and well-documented cases, Kmart's foray into the blogging and Twitter scene in 2008.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

V8 Juice Ads & Canadian Unity

This is a reprint from a satirical piece I did 15 years ago (can that really be right?). During the 1994 National Unity debate, Lucien Bouchard made headlines when he predicted Quebec's separation would lead to the swift fall of English Canada to American invasion.

And then these odd, French-only V8 posters mysteriously began to appear in downtown Toronto.

Reprinted from Ad Nauseam, June 14, 1994

Anglophone Canadians trembled recently when Lucien Bouchard revealed a secret American plan to annex Western Canada in the wake of Quebec separation. And while the Bloc Quebecois Leader later denied making such statements (by arguing "I would be crazy. Am I crazy? Am I crazy? Do I look crazy?"), his skilled rhetoric came too late to quell Anglo anxieties.

I only bring this up because in the past week I've  seen not one, but three French-only V8 advertisements in the Wellesley/Yonge/Church streets area: an obvious bid to placate French-speaking vegetable juice drinkers.
The posters, which hang outside two convenience stores, show people drinking a V8. Underneath is the phrase "V8 est a notre gout," which I believe means "V8 prevents gout" — although I am unable to confirm this as my translator isn't talking to me until she determines whether or not Bouchard is, in fact, crazy.

Nevertheless, such a translation makes sense as a ploy to hold onto Quebec. Rich French cooking has been known to cause gout; V8 prevents gout. Subtextually, what the ads are saying is that no matter what Quebec wishes to dish up, we'll eat it.
At the top of the ad is the word "Sante!" which is probably French for "Sanity." What clearer message could we send to Quebec as a plea for Canadian unity? Protesters will storm Ottawa chanting: "My Canada includes Sanity!" and "V8 prevents gout!"

It's this kind of unambiguous sloganism that has worked so well in the past to bring about thoughtful and nuanced political decisions.

Nor should we, as do some, take lightly the threat of separation. While many commentators have pointed out various problems that could arise should Quebec choose independence, M. Bouchard has, in fact, openly stated what the rest of us have hardly dared think: that with Quebec gone there would be nothing to prevent an American invasion. Surely even the most politically naive have known the only reason Canada has not already been annexed by the States is because they have no wish to be saddled with the problem of Quebec nationalists.

And so it is that we salute V8's selfless effort to do its part in keeping Canada together. I'd like to end with one of those rousing French slogans, but I just called my translator and she still hasn't determined Bouchard's mental stability.

Some mysteries may never be solved.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Oh, so now they're turning to Boomers

Once you've dropped them into a few insulting ads for adult diapers, life insurance, and Viagra, when it comes to marketing, the only thing Baby Boomers are good for is comic foil in commercials aimed at the real market: the under 30s.

A lot of us have complained about this (Chuck Nyren, Advertising to Baby Boomers, being perhaps the loudest and most articulate voice), and more than a quarter of us are outright insulted by the commercials aimed at us (according to a study by Focalyst, a joint venture between the WPP advertising group and the American Association of Retired People). The same study also confirms what many other studies before and since have tried to make apparent: that the over-50 market controls three-quarters of the country's financial assets and have more than $2 trillion in spending money.

Despite this, the Mad Men are convinced their fortunes lie in the three-minute-long attention spans of a youth market in which brand loyalty changes faster than the songs on their iPods.

Until now, that is. It seems that with the sudden economic meltdown, at least a few advertisers are discovering what anyone not fully immersed in all the latest social-marketing principles could have told them years ago: the Boomers have money and may be willing to spend it -- if approached in the right way.

NeuroFocus is a consumer research group which measures subjects' responses to various advertising stimuli by means of EEGs, pixel-level-eye-tracking equipment, and galvanic skin response technology. In a recent study, aimed at helping financial institutions find the best ways to win back the public's trust, they made several observations which, when looked at objectively, shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone not already brainwashed by the latest youth-marketing propaganda.

In Money Meltdown, Minds, and Milliseconds, the white paper describing the results of their experiments, NeuroFocus highlights several key areas, many of which emphasise the advantages of advertising to an older market.

The most obvious of these was the discovery that "age trumps beauty." When shown advertising which replaced young spokespersons with those over 40, subjects showed greater trust. In a similar vein, consumers responded better to people who had some expertise in the field over those who merely had some form of celebrity.

Closely connected to these findings was the discovery that subjects responded far better to "clutter free, humanized" websites, and that good navigation scored higher than the number of widgets, wadgets, or whatnots incorporated. Even in the social marketing area, the results indicated that an adult orientation beat out an adolescent one. YouTube videos "emphasizing CEOs, employee comments, information, and advice scored better than many other interactive mechanisms." Furthermore, employee blogs rated high despite any "preconceived notions about it being planned and generated."

The conclusions are clear. When you want the consumer to trust you, start aiming your message at the Boomers. Forget the social-marketing geegaws, don't clutter the site with every conceivable feature the 18-year-olds in your IT department can come up with, and create videos that address the issues rather than entertain.

If nothing else good comes from the recent economic crisis, at least we have the faint hope that advertising can become more adult.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

CTRs: The "Car Through Rate"

Following WWII, the National Highway Act was put into effect and 40,000 miles of modern superhighways were created. While useful for the fast-growing car culture, it spelled the end for intimate, road-side ads like those made famous by Burma Shave. To adapt, advertisers created the billboard. 

In other words, the (non-information) superhighway occasioned a brand new advertising medium.
vertising medium.
Now imagine if they had pitched the idea to their clients by stressing that since the target audience was already in their cars, it would now be possible to measure the success of the new medium by counting the cars that passed a billboard and then turned off at the next exit to purchase the advertised product. 

They would have called this the “Car Through Rate,” or CTR. 

It’s fortunate that such a “benefit” was never put forward because the expected behaviour, of course, would never have materialized. Clients would have judged the worth of billboards solely by the pitiful CTRs and costs would plunge. But while the CTR may not have been successful, the signs would still have performed the function of advertising -- putting images and copy in front of the consumer. This, coupled with the absurdly small cost, would provide incentive for an increase in the number of billboards erected, mostly by small-time business owners who knew little about advertising.

The result would be a plethora of ads whose innate effectiveness would be diminished both by their irritating and amateurish qualities as well as their sheer numbers.

Had Internet advertising been recognised from the beginning as no more, and certainly no less, effective than ads found in the pages of any other publication, the cost would have better reflected their worth. This, in turn, would have discouraged the explosion of cheap and poorly-conceived ads while attracting high-quality ads created by professional agencies.

There are differences, of course, between online ads and those appearing in physical publications, the most important, perhaps, being the restriction of real estate. But if small publications like TV Guide and Readers Digest could command high rates for their ads, then surely websites with equivalent readerships could have done the same. And as the size of screens increases, the real estate problem becomes far less of a problem.

The problem with Internet ads has never been that they don’t command people’s attention -- that’s a problem faced by all ads. A well-designed ad placed in front of 50,000 readers of an online magazine has exactly the same power as the same ad placed in front of 50,000 readers of a paper magazine. The problem is, when they didn’t perform miracles we began giving the online ads away -- and then complained that they weren’t brining in enough money.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Student Presidential Campaign Shows Professional Ineptness

It’s election time on campus. While nobody is quite sure what student presidents actually do, a number of candidates are still eager to reach out to their fellow students and shamelessly beg for the opportunity to do it. On its own, of course, this holds no interest for me. What caught my attention was how many of the candidates, without any training in advertising, have instinctively employed tried-and-true advertising techniques. 

If It Worked for Him…

Most common are those ads whose creativity comes from plagiarising previously successful campaigns. This year, of course, the primary source is Barack Obama, although use of his slogans appears to be limited to students who can claim some degree of ethnicity. The most notable of these are two black students, one of whom promises “Yes, we will,” while another, whose posters feature an image of his face on a coin, asks, “Want change? I’ve got some.” Meanwhile, a Greek student employs the “change” motive in a number of posters such as “Change our student government,” and “change our rights” (one of these rights being a place to relax and even sleep -- a pointless promise since they already have the lectures for that).

I Tell You Three Times

The next most-common advertising method is the simple proclamation: “I am the best.” This is the fall-back position for several of the candidates, although like the real-world counterpart ads, they neglect to provide us with any particular reason for believing in their superiority. “You want the best, vote for ____,” reads a typical sample, or to be honest, pretty well all of them. While “I’m the best” may be an honourable tradition, it’s boringly limited.

The Concept Ad

One candidate has embraced the concept ads popular among agencies promoting high-end purchases, such as luxury cars, perfume, and wrist watches. These generally consist of an artsy photo taking up most of the ad space, coupled with vague copy that seems to say something, but actually doesn't. In this case, a close-up of part of the candidate’s face fills half the poster while the copy asks various life-style questions such as, “Do you want more empowerment?” 

The Snake Oil Cure 

One of the great drawing powers of the snake oil salesmen was their promise to cure every problem facing humanity. One candidate in particular has embraced this style with gusto. Among her many promises are: a student study space (which they already have), a campus radio station (which is financially impossible), and a student-owned book store (which is downright scary).  

Now I’m not faulting the students for their lack of creativity in their campaigns. What disturbs me is that, with only a few minor changes. they are virtually indistinguishable from the kind of advertising that clutters up so much of our media, both in print and online. 

When amateur ads by semi-literate students appear so similar to professional ads by established agencies, it may signal that we’ve got a problem in the industry. 


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A&W Campaign Increasingly Disappointing

I’m disappointed in A&W. For several decades they’ve been searching for an effective advertising strategy with limited results. Sometimes they attempted to appeal to the youth of the moment, such as their embarrassing Root Bear of the ‘70s, and sometimes they’ve drawn upon the nostalgia from their history as one of the earliest drive-in restaurants. 

A couple of years ago, however, they hit upon a new approach. An attractive, mature couple, possibly in their early 40s, is walking down the street after what has obviously been a first date at a high-end restaurant. As they walk, they discuss, in a casual, witty fashion, the overly-pretentious and tiny portions of food they’ve just been served. When it comes time to go their separate ways, the woman suggests they get something to eat. “But we’ve just eaten,” says the man. “No we haven’t,” she responds. Of course, they end up at an A&W with the “real food” of a hamburger and fries. “Will you be having desert with that?” asks the franchise owner. “This is desert,” he’s told.

It’s warm, intelligent, and appealing. It positions A&W as a piece of nostalgia with modern relevance. It was aimed at adults, and it portrayed a real, adult situation. 

Recently, however, the agency behind the ads appears to have been seduced by the siren call of adolescent humour. In a spot called "The Trainee," to introduce their sirloin Uncle Burger, the franchise owner calls his staff together only to discover that the sample burger (improbably kept undercover on a silver platter) has disappeared. He then notices that one of the young staff has a spot of sauce on his shirt and is ecstatically mumbling about “sirloin.” In a follow-up spot, "Lose Yourself," the father of four children is so enraptured with his Uncle Burger that he fails to understand what his wife is saying when she suggests they try for a girl. Mistaking his moans of pleasure for agreement, the mother generously tells him he can choose the name. He mutters “sirloin,” which she ponders for a moment, believing this to be his choice. “For a girl?” she says, dubiously.

From ads aimed at adults, they’ve become ads aimed at young teenagers’ concepts of adults. The product goes from being a believable alternative to fancy, but unsatisfying dining, to food that is so orgasmically pleasing that anyone indulging in it is incapable of carrying on a sensible conversation. 

It’s disappointing to see such a promising campaign turn into yet another youth-directed piece of nonsense.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Due to a determined effort to release my library of 5,000 books from their boxes onto shelves, along with increased teaching demands, Ad Nauseam will be on hiatus for a couple of months.

See you all by April.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Cultural marketing threatens Keebler Elves and Tetley Tea Folk

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the December 30, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger.

While marketing is important, we should always keep in mind its cost to culture. News shows are cluttered with spots which amount to little more than promotions of consumer goods; snack food advertisement has been credited with the increase of obesity among children; and educational institutes have find themselves engaging in various degrees of product placement in return for funds.

But nowhere is the influence of marketing felt stronger than when the commodity being marketed is the culture itself. This can clearly be seen in the case studies of two separate cultures which, as a marketing device, turned to their own heritage.

“Admittedly, tea has always played a large and important role in our culture,” says Earl Bergamot, one of the Tetley Tea Folk’s most prominent citizens, “but over the last few decades it has grown out of all proportion. The only things tourists are interested in these days are the tea-related items: handcrafted tea-pots, coasters, strainers — that sort of thing. Sometimes they’ll pick up a couple of the ankle bells we wear for traditional dances, but only because they’ve seen us dancing on TV.”

Artisans who create the in-demand items find themselves doing a thriving business, and certainly no one is complaining about the much-needed infusion of foreign dollars into the economy. The downside, however, is that many of the other, and equally important, traditional art forms have gone into serious decline.

“Our religious artefacts have all but disappeared,” mourns Bergamot. “I think there are only two artists still producing black-velvet paintings. Our heritage is suffering.”

The second case study involves a culture forced to reinvent its history in order to disassociate itself from characteristics which may not be conducive to the marketing of its products.

“We’re supposed to be cute, ya know?” says Shop Steward Ernest J. Keebler of the Keebler elves; but the cigar-waving figure seated across from me in the office of a large cookie factory is a far cry from his TV persona frequently shown gently encouraging his helpers.

The Keeblerites came into their cookie heritage many centuries back. Representing the losing faction in a civil war fought over labor issues in 1345 AD, they were exiled from the North Pole and forced to start a new society further south. But while they had little in the way of resources, they refused to compromise their most precious principle. “We work, we get paid!” says Ernest, summing up the Keebler philosophy. “It’s as simple as that. We didn’t give in to the f---ing fat man in the red suit and we’re sure as hell not going to give in to anyone else!”

Upon founding their new country in 1347, they were then faced with the challenge of finding a new line of work.

“All we knew was, like, wooden toys, see?” says Ernest, laughing. “Then when the plague started breaking out all over Europe we figured: what the hell — let’s make cookies.” Starting from scratch was no easy task, however.

“Of course, we didn’t know the first thing about cookies, and all our early recipes called for a lot of saw-dust.” Ernest leans forward conspiratorially. “We still make the saw-dust cookies,” he says with a smile. “We just sell ‘em to the dorks in the health food store. It’s amazing what those guys will buy!”

But public image isn’t the only problem facing the Keeblerites. Once a year, after the filming of his popular television, the Cookie Monster beats his annual, month-long retreat to the Keebler valley.

“Man, oh man!” groans Ernest. “When that guy hits town we all know it. And when he brings that a--hole friend of his, Barney, it takes us a full month just to fix the place up again.”

While solutions may yet be a long way off, simply acknowledging the problem is a step in the right direction. The question is, will the cultures be around long enough to benefit?

The pathos of the situation was brought home to me at the end of my interview with Tetley Tea’s Earl Bergamot. The solemn little man took me into a local church and pointed out an empty alcove. “Until it was broken a few years ago,” he said, “there used to be a beautiful plaster-cast bust of Elvis in that space. It still hasn’t been replaced.”

He shook his head sadly. “Our culture is dying.”


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