Author Archives: Julie

Fearless in the Face of Marketing Complexity

In the digital age, successful marketing organizations embrace and leverage the complexity wrought by interactive technologies—they’re fearless in the face of empowered consumers and ever-changing media. On Monday, February 28, our second CATFOA speaker, Julie Roehm (@jaroehm), will bring decades of global marketing experience to the Twin Cities to discuss the advantages of her fearless approach.

Julie spent six years as a brand manager at Ford, before serving as Director of Marketing Communications for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge, overseeing $2.1 Billion in marketing investment—earning praise from Brandweek as its 2004 Automotive Marketer of the Year. Also in 2004, Julie was inducted into the AAF Advertising Hall of Achievement for outstanding performance in the field of marketing and advertising to executives under 40 years old. She then moved to Wal-Mart, as Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications, with responsibilities for its $800M marketing budget. Julie currently serves as a marketing advisor and consultant through /Meta LLC for start ups, media companies and corporations including Sports Illustrated, Time, Credit Suisse and ADP. She is an official AOL blogger and commentator for Fox Business News.

This event is free. No RSVP required. Just show up!

Just like our previous 16 speakers, Julie Roehm will appear at the Fine Line Music Cafe, 318 First Avenue North in Minneapolis.

Doors open at 5:15 p.m. Julie’s presentation starts at 6:00 p.m.

Many thanks to MIMA and MCAD for their generous sponsorship!

Superbowl 2011: The Year of the Car

The Volkswagen Passat ad was one of the most popular from Super Bowl XLV (Hulu).

At least from my perspective, this year’s Super Bowl ads made automakers look good, for the most part. And at $3 million per 30-second spot, they really ought to.

All the rage this year was linking digital media and other social initiatives to the TV ads to boost the results and amortize the costs of the ads. It is, after all, far less expensive to invest in these channels than in the TV ad itself. Facebook integration into the ads was good and while Twitter saw less action from the advertisers themselves, there was no lack of commentary on the ads while the game was on.

Ad Age estimated that 59 percent of viewers sent an e-mail or text about the game, 18 percent checked out ads online from their phones, 18 percent visited advertisers websites, and 32 percent posted comments about the game on a social network.

So, how did the auto guys do? You can judge for yourself but if you read the USA Today this morning, you may have been as completely shocked as I was to learn that the Doritos ad with the dog launching itself through the door was tied for the best ad along with the Bud Light commercial with the dogs playing servants at a party. According to the USA Today Ad Meter, VW’s Passat “Darth Vader” ad was the 3rd best ad of the night. Now that I get.

Audi A8: Escape the Confines of Old Luxury
Grade: A-

This is the ad where two old school money types are trying to escape their luxury prison. The guards try to slow their escape with music from Kenny G., highly groomed and unthreatening dogs, only to find two get-away car choices: a Mercedes and an Audi. The Mercedes is a trap, but one of the guys feels most comfortable in it, while the one who chooses the Audi gets away. Entertaining. Makes a point. Audi has been promoting via the Twitter hashtag #progressIs for the past several days. There was no website integration but there was a bit of Tweeting on it last night and much love was directed toward Audi. Overall, the brand gets good marks for the spot and its digital effort.

Scott Keogh, CMO of Audi says, “You need television spots that are obviously humorous and creative, that cause a conversation, that have some kind of cause or meaning behind it. Truth be told, the cause can only be sustained by social media.”

Chevy Cruze Eco: 42 mpg
Grade: B

This spot revolves around a room of senior citizens watching the ad for the Chevy Cruze Eco. Except they are all hard of hearing, so continually misinterpret what is being said. I thought it was entertaining and remember “42 mpg,” as it was repeated over and over. Chevy was smart in extending the life of all its ads in that they had been posted on YouTube days before the game. Chevy also had a big area dedicated to the big game ads on its homepage.

Chevy Silverado HD
Grade: B-

“Tommy is stuck in a well!”… among other things. In this take-off from the classic film plotline of Lassie’s “Timmy Down the Well,” Chevy looked to show off the capabilities of its heavy duty trucks. I was in a room of people with an average age of 40 but only two people got the Lassie connection.

Hyundai Elantra: Hypnotized
Grade: C-

“Have we been trained to think compact cars are good enough?” This was not Hyundai’s best effort. Good integration with its Facebook page though, with a section dedicated to the big game. The site also pointed to the ads and a link to vote for your favorite via Facebook. In this case, Hyundai’s actions off the big screen were far better than what it aired on it.

Kia Optima
Grade: B-

This action-movie ad depicted crazy James Bond-like stunt scenes with everyone from the wealthy, to the aliens, to the Aztecs going to extraordinary lengths to capture a Kia Optima. It sure is a departure from the brand’s campy Paul Frank-inspired ads, as well as the Hamster ad that has gotten it so much positive buzz. This spot was well done and certainly entertaining, even if it was borderline ridiculous.

Chevy Volt: Extended Range
Grade: B+

In this ad, Chevy did a good job of connecting innovation to its product, and in a way that spoke to the innovative spirit of Americans. Touching on our heritage in areas from science to rock and roll, it was all very Chevy-like and well done.

BMW X3
Grade: B

Touting its “American-ness,” with a plant in South Carolina and a design studio in California, BMW played up the fact that while others were getting bailed out, it was digging in. That every X3 in the world comes from the U.S. is not really inspiring stuff, but it did help to connect BMW to the fabric of America.

BMW Advanced Diesel
Grade: B

It’s about time someone used a big stage to talk about the benefits of clean diesel. While it’s great that BMW did it and the ad was somewhat entertaining, it just wasn’t that great. It probably wasn’t clear what was being advertised to someone who didn’t already know about modern diesel. Still the message is an important one for the auto industry as it tries to meet higher fuel economy standards.

VW Passat
Grade: A

This was the best ad of the night, at least up to this point in the game. The ad features a little kid in his Darth Vader outfit trying and failing to control various things with the Force. Then, dad comes home in his Passat and our Darth Vader stands in front of it with his hands in their commanding position only to have the car start, much to the kid’s surprise! Dad and mom are inside watching, with the car remote, from the kitchen. A simple feature to tout, but memorable and worthy of the Super Bowl.

VW was back for the second year in a row after a nine-year hiatus. It says a million people watched its ad online last year, of which 850,000 saw it on YouTube. So this year it is doing a “takeover” of YouTube today. VW also found that many viewers were watching the game on TV while also checking out ESPN mobile on their phones. So, they “took over” ESPN mobile with their ads last night, as well. And games ads were also well integrated on their website.

Chevy Cruze
Grade: B+

This one was all about Facebook and how you can get real-time Facebook status updates via OnStar. A cute spot gor a unique feature. I’m not sure it was Super Bowl-good but it was decent. And Chevy gets a special mention for the best Facebook integration of the night.

Mini Countryman: Cram It…
Grade: C

This was a campy spot about the spaciousness of the newest Mini model. It was a bit naughty, with the double entendre of the name of the game show the ad was depicting: “Cram It In The Boot.” While the ad also played up the British-ness of the Mini, it was not particularly entertaining and seemed strangely out of place for Mini.

Hyundai: Deprogramming
Grade: D

This ad shows a swirling kaleidoscope of cars and brains in the shape of cars, with Jeff Bridges announcing that we don’t have to compromise in a compact car and that we should snap out of it. I wish Hyundai would. After such a great showing last year, the brand has absolutely stumbled this year.

Chrysler 200
Grade: A

The Detroit landscape, Eminem beats playing in the background, “What does Detroit know about luxury? Steel, hard work and conviction.” Shots of Eminem driving a Chrysler 200, showing up at the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit. This was a deep, meaningful ad that seems born out of the disastrous economy we have all suffered through in the past two years, but that Detroit has seen the worst of. It makes you want Chrysler to win.

This is a great branding commercial, but not so great in that it was for the 200, which is hardly worthy. But the spot did its job of making you proud of something a true blue collar town can produce. I may be too emotionally tied up in Detroit to be objective, but I liked this spot a lot. Real-time Twitter responses were very favorable, though the USA Today AdMeter placed it a disappointing 44th. If you check the buzz though, I think USA Today got it wrong.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Grade: B-

Anachronistic City. Big phones, old time cameras, a health club with fat jigglers. “What if we settled for the first thing that came along?” Okay, I get it. But Hyundai is not winning the customer vote because it is progressive or innovative. It has been winning because of its strides in quality and because it has been willing to back this up with a best-in-class warranty. Entertaining, but a bit of a disconnect with the brand.

VW: The New Beetle
Grade: B

Black Betty is playing in the background while a black beetle with white racing stripes zips through the insect world. You knew it was for a car, and if you knew it was a beetle, you probably knew what was coming. The bug stuff was fun, but it would have been nice to pay it off with at least a tease of the actual car.

Mercedes: Welcome To The Family
Grade: B+

A look at the best Mercedes from decades past, where all the cars sneak out to welcome the newest models. This was a good Mercedes history lesson, but why is P. Diddy here? He feels distracting to the overall story, and there was not a lot about the new cars themselves.

Better was that Mercedes developed a pre-game race among four teams headed for the Super Bowl. The racers speed was dictated by the number of Tweets they received. For Mercedes, this social-media push seems to be working. Since the Tweet race was announced, its Facebook following has more than tripled to 85,000 fans. It started a Twitter account for the race, which now has 73,000 followers. Since the racers began posting YouTube videos when the race started Tuesday, they have been viewed 1.8 million times. So the ad was okay but the overall efforts made it even better. B+

Chevy Camaro
Grade: C+

A woman in a Camaro, evading danger at every turn… with a couple of guys as announcers just imagining the entire scenario. They end up discussing what her day job is, and she is a teacher. I like the connection to the unexpected but it was not Chevy’s best effort of the night. And I still do not like the tagline. I have yet to see how “Runs Deep” connects to any of these messages in a meaningful way.

Chevy Cruze: Glee
Grade: C-

Two words: young girls. Glee is a popular show and Chevy obviously saw fit to borrow some of its brand equity. The ad was “to be continued on Glee” but I was not nearly interested enough to do that.

Media Buyers To Wall Street: Online Will Be Up 11% in ’11, Mobile To Break Billion Mark

Online media buyers expect their budgets to expand 11% during 2011, according to a survey conducted by the equities research team at Deutsche Bank. The survey, which was conducted recently among 31 media buyers representing more than $5 billion in annual online ad spending, indicated that budgets should continue to expand at “double digits over the foreseeable future” for both paid search and display ads, and that other emerging digital media platforms such as mobile, social and group buying communities should also “ramp nicely” supporting the overall growth of digital media advertising budgets.
The Deutsche team, led by lead Internet analyst Jeetil Patel, said the outlook should hold at least through 2015, and that based on the outlook it is recommending four Internet stocks to investors: Google, InterActiveCorp, comScore and MediaMind.

“As has been the theme over the past few years, online advertising would continue to grow, gaining share from traditional media,” the analysts said in the report sent to investors late Monday. Noting that traditional print media appears to be “most vulnerable” from the reallocation of advertising budgets to online and digital media, the Deutsche team projected that mobile advertising would likely become a “billion dollar segment” in 2011, more than doubling its 2010 base.

“Advertisers are increasingly dedicating separate budgets for mobile, indicating that mobile ad spend is slowly moving out of the ‘experimentation’ phase,” the analysts said.

“Online media buyers are keeping tabs on new themes within online advertising such as radio, social, mobile and group buying,” they continued. “As these new business strategies flourish online, it does appear that online advertising growth would remain robust for the foreseeable future. While currently a limited number of players (ad networks and publishers) have the critical mass with these emerging ad formats, we do anticipate these categories to evolve into much bigger opportunities, likely expediting the share gains from offline ad spending. Just as important, online data analytics remains an important area of focus for media buyers in their daily online toolset.”

Make Fear Your Friend

About a month ago, I read this great blog by Peter Shankman on Embracing Fear. It is one of those rare blogs that has stayed with me and really made me think. Peter talks about the beginnings of mankind and how fear kept man alive. Fear of the saber-toothed tiger, being on high alert, kept the race going. He then talks about how, in modern day, fear has been transformed into something to avoid. Specifically, “Taking the safe job, for the safe paycheck” or not saying too much or putting yourself out there in fear of what others might say about you. This is followed by a personal story of his where he describes a blog he wrote and the backlash he received from another blogger who chastised him for his thinking. He names the individual and creates a moniker for the action using this person’s name. Peter says, “I believe that the fear we have of getting Laermered, whether by an angry old man, or even a real media outlet, holds us back from achieving the greatness that’s ingrained inside most all of us. I believe that the fear of getting Laermered holds us back as a people, as a country, and even as the human race. It’s time to change that.”

Now it is true that I may feel a greater kinship to Peter and this story and that is why it stuck with me. My past history with the world’s largest retailer created quite a stir, and even today I read Tweets (as recent as yesterday) about someone who wants to judge, criticize, and demean me without ever having had the opportunity to know the true facts, much less me. I admit that when I read what the more negative people write from time to time, it bothers me. I am human. But, call it stupidity, fearlessness, or just plain survival, I keep going and do my best not to let it bother me, knowing that I do the best I can and try never to hurt others in the process. I know too that I am not alone. People who are brave enough, or just plain naive enough, to put themselves out there in some way, shape, or form deserve something more than our judgment and endless criticism. It is far easier to be a critic than an idea generator afterall.

When we think about this in the context of our world, it brings to mind that old Apple ad, “Think Different” , sometimes also called, “The Crazy Ones.” The ad itself highlights some of the most innovative people of our time and also highlights the fact that many of these people were vilified along the way. What would our world be like without people like these? And when I look at an old Apple ad I can’t help but think about the Super Bowl, since it was Apple that changed the game from being merely a gridiron match-up to an ad extravaganza with “1984.” The game is just around the corner and there are stories abounding about the increased number of ads and ad minutes this year. While many may say that advertising on TV doesn’t require a brave marketer, I would beg to differ. The Super Bowl ad for a marketer is the equivalent of walking on a stage of your peers, naked. It is a statement that you believe that your brand and your work are worthy of the worlds largest TV stage and that you are putting yourself out there for all to see.

In the same way, the start-up entrepreneurs who take risks every day by not just putting an idea out there for all of us to see, but also putting their livelihoods at risk, are the lifeblood of our future. It is this set of fearless creators that will someday populate the next generation “Crazy Ones” ad. So, as we read the blogs, watch the ads, review the latest media idea, be constructive in your thoughts. It may be a reaction to the shootings in Arizona, but I believe that in the marketing world, we can do more to help, support, and offer constructive criticism rather than work to win or gain the spotlight by tearing others down. With that I will leave you with Peter’s recommendations for making fear your friend.

1. Embrace Fear
2. Calculated risks are the rocket fuel of our society
3. Eat your fear. It tastes good and will make you stronger.
4.
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” -Albert Einstein.
5. If you don’t first believe in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to believe in you, either.
6. The only voice you have to listen to without fail is the one inside.
7. Pain is just weakness leaving the body. (I actually own a USMC shirt with this statement)
8. Living a public life is more dangerous than staying private, but much, much more rewarding. – Bloggers – this includes you!
9. If you’re not getting “Laermered” every once in a while, perhaps you’re not reaching your full potential.

All I Wanted For Christmas…

While I realize that not every reader celebrates Christmas, I do know that most partake in the commercial aspect of the season in one form or another. In the end though, no matter your religious proclivities, it is the season of giving. So, in that spirit, keeping Christmas going for just a little longer, I am writing this light-hearted blog with a few tidbits and fun-facts about giving, getting, and more.

First, I asked some colleagues what they considered the “best gifts” for marketers to be. Here are just a few of the most common answers.

  1. “An up tick in the economy.” It seems that this holiday wish remains tops with just about everyone but definitely the marketer. I have an abundance of friends from the Detroit area and they, more than most, responded with this wish.
  2. “For agencies: a big win without a pitch.” Not as crazy as it once was. This year and likely those to come, will see more and more agency shifts that occur outside of the normal process. The biggest this year was likely the GM agency shift to Goodby.
  3. “Happy, profitable clients!” This from a smart marketer and agency person who understands that without profitable clients, there can be no profitable agencies.
  4. “Momentum” This, related to the economy, is the lifeblood of us all. As a consultant, there is nothing worse than getting into a project, really understanding a clients needs and then finding that the funding has been cut, or the people have changed, or that they simply wanted to shortcut the project to get it done quicker for less money.
  5. “More Clients.” Enough said.
  6. “iPad” This came up more than once because while we are all marketing professionals, we are consumers first. Who DOESN’T want one of these?
  7. “An idea worth sharing!” And in this age of data overload, finding the gem within the field of weeds, is truly special.

8.   A working cyrstal ball.
9.   The best gift a marketer can give himself/herself is the willingness to look beyond the corner of the box!

There were many other suggestions but these reigned supreme not only because of the number of people who agreed with them but also because, with the exception of the iPad, they were really about “gifts” that were NOT commercial.

Still, as marketers, one of the best gifts we can receive is the gift of knowledge. Over the holiday season, most of us marketing geeks can’t wait to get our hands on the retail numbers and other holiday statistics as they prove to be a great forecasting tool for the new year. And, “other” data are just plain entertaining, and good conversation starters at the staff meetings and bars in the new year. Even though the season is over, we all deserve to laugh a little and to keep things light from time to time. So, let’s see what Santa brought us this year. (Data courtesy of a tweet from Digital Surgeons)

  • The average shopper spent $688 for gifts this year. Not a bad number but still down from the pre-recession number of $900.
  • $232 was expected to be spent on electronics, on average, per consumer
  • $662 on food, travel and decorations
  • Visa will have seen 5340 swipes per minute between Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • There will be 1.2 billion candy canes sold this year
  • $32 billion+ will have been spent on online shopping
  • Over 130 million gallons of eggnog will have been sold
  • 70% of retail sales annual revenue is made in December
  • $2.25 billion is generated from photos with Santa in shopping malls
  • 20% of Americans finished holiday shopping on Christmas Eve
  • 275 million Christmas cards were mailed on December 17th
  • 50 million Christmas trees are sold each year
  • 250 will catch on fire in someone’s home
  • Santa traveled at 3,604 miles per second
  • The top selling gifts of 2010 were the XBox 360 Kinect and Kindle
  • $64 Billion was made from Black Friday sales
  • 4 million tons of trash are generated from gift wrap/bags each year
  • Nearly 30% of smart phone users will have researched or purchased gifts via mobile devices

I hope that some of these facts were a surprise, put a smile on your face, or maybe even sparked an idea for yourself or a client for this new year. May your 2011 be full of life, love, joy and yes, profits this year. A time of hope for us all!

Tips, Tricks, and Ideas Spawning This Holiday Season

We are well into the shopping season and the retailers are all agog with the better than anticipated sales, particularly in electronics and high-end department stores. And as marketers we want to know what is working, what is not, who is doing what and where. We are also shoppers ourselves so this blog attempts to give a little something to everyone.

Tactics From the Traditional Marketing Set:

1. JC Penney, partnering with Facebook, FourSquare and Brightkite used location-based check in and rewarded those participating with $10 off purchases of $50 or more the day after Thanksgiving.

2. Best Buy is using an app called Tecca that is both iPhone and Android compatible to let customers compare devices and prices online of various products before choosing which to buy.

3. Sears is offering a feature on their website that allows customers to follow and receive sale alerts on items.

4. Walmart, getting into the GroupOn act, has developed their own group buying app on Facebook called CrowdSaver. When enough people go on and “like” the page, Walmart offers up a deal.

5. Shoppers can also get deals for checking in once, returning to a store or bringing friends to a store on Facebook. Gap, Macy‘s and American Eagle Outfitters are all on this bandwagon.

Then there is the app world.

This year, people are using their smartphones 25% more than they did last year when shopping and comparing. That means mobile couponing but it also means deal hunting.

For the Shopper AND the Marketer:

1. I just read a piece about PriceGrabber’s website. They claim that their site attracts about 26 million shoppers each month. “Using the mobile app, shoppers can scan an item at a store and see information on the best price on the product across multiple retailers. They can try to haggle for a better deal while they’re in the store, or buy it for less through a competitor. The service even calculates exactly how much the purchase will be when shipped directly to a consumer’s home, showing which option is the least expensive down to the last cent,” PriceGrabber President Laura Conrad says.

2. Because I travel so much, I am a fan of the apps that let customers earn rewards and cut back on unnecessary travel expenses to get to a store. CheckPoints is an app that allows shoppers to earn points when they take pictures of the bar codes of items the app chooses to feature. These points can be redeemed for gift certificates from places like Sephora and Neiman Marcus, as well as other items, airline miles and charity donations.

3. Shopkick is a slightly less interesting one to me. On this app you get entered in a sweepstakes just for “checking in” when you get to a store. As a marketer, this seems to be interesting only if I am looking to get a count of who is shopping and when or if I plan to give personalized deals. But for most marketers, the trick is getting people to the store in the first place. Shopkick, is a location-based shopping app that basically points you toward partner stores in your vicinity that have exclusive deals and reward points called “Kickbucks.” “Kickbucks” can be redeemed for gift cards, restaurant vouchers and merchandise from partner stores including Best Buy, Target and Macy’s.

4. Dealery – If you are a fan of apps and sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and BuyWithMe, you will love this. Dealery aggregates all the deals from participating services in a specific metro area (mainly bigger cities like New York, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco). It provides information on the deal itself, details and restrictions of the deal, and the length that the deal is available.

5. Grouponicus This is the holiday version of the Groupon social-coupon service. It gives information on holiday-themed “experience” gifts that are available for at least 50 percent off in selected U.S. cities where Groupon offers deals.

6. FindtheBest is a great gift when you don’t know what to give. Or if you are torn between two items, like camera’s or e-readers. This will let you compare service, features, functions and cost through its research tool. It is a laser focused comparison engine that uses all available information from the manufacturer as well as from customer reviews and other research apps that will spit out a very detailed analysis of everything to do with the product.

7. Want to do well by doing good? Then check out Jumo. Jumo is the brainchild of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. He says the site is designed not just to collect donations but also to use wall posts, status updates and networking to help build continuing relations between the charities and their donors. All you need to do is to create an account that is similar to a Facebool profile and then choose the charity that you want to track.

8.  Shopping Goddess Could be named Gods and Goddesses as it is not just for us shopping diva’s. The app shares user reviews of stores, as well as products sold in them. The God or Goddess aspect comes in when you post your reviews. If you get a list of followers that read and follow your advice then you build a reputation on the site and can become a “Mayor” at a store which earns you rewards like $50 and $100 discounts as well as 50 percent deals at stores such as Sony, Barnes and Noble and Target. Why a Goddess would want to become a “Mayor” I don’t get but the deals seems to be good.

9. ‘Key Ring‘ is an app that collects all of your loyalty and rewards cards and transfers them directly to your smartphone. Just use the camera on your smartphone to scan the bar code on each discount card, and the app will automatically identify and store it in your phone. The next time you’re in the checkout line, just open up ‘Key Ring,’ scan your code, and save yourself some cash. 

10. The rest…Amazon, Yowza, RedLaser, Save Benjis, Coupons, ShopSavvy, etc are all back in full force this year and are pretty reliable when it comes to scanning barcodes and finding the best deal, be it in store or online.

For the Marketer:

IBM Coremetrics Holiday Alerts People who subscribe to this get the real skinny on what is going on in the retail world in terms of sales and trends. For instance, the subscribers got some of the first alerts about the Black Friday sales results and the Cyber Monday $1 Billion sales mark being hit. “The data, drawn from Coremetrics’ own research, provides up-to-date performance benchmarks and offers directions for possible shifts in retail strategies as the crucial month of December rolls on.” according to one insider. One interesting tidbit that I read from the site? Shoppers viewed 18 percent fewer products on websites and moved on faster if they didn’t find what they wanted. Does your website facilitate these shoppers?

Can Auto Safety Ads Go Too Far?

In 2007, there were 10.6 million automobile accidents in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. “Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC also states that among teen drivers, those at especially high risk for motor vehicle crashes are:

1. Males: In 2006, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 15 to 19 was almost two times that of their female counterparts.

2. Teens driving with teen passengers: The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with the number of teen passengers.

3. Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first year that teenagers are eligible to drive.

These are frightening statistics whether you have teenagers at home or not. But do these statistics justify graphic, disturbing, and gory ads and public service announcements (PSA) on TV? You be the judge.

These first three ads are from Volkswagen, and while its Safe Happens campaign wasn’t strictly a PSA, it took on that tone. VW has frequently been on the forefront of progressive, clutter-breaking advertising and these ads were no exception.

This first ad features two friends simply talking as they drive through the suburban streets.

This next one takes the same approach, but this time with a group of teens talking about a movie they have just seen. Interesting when you couple this seemingly innocent car ride with the statistics above regarding teens driving with other teen passengers.

This last ad from VW features two women talking about none other than a graphic commercial where a car accident is featured … irony at its best.

recall the first time I saw these ads on television. They certainly got my attention and also got me to think more about safety, so the campaign clearly did its job. I recall the furor over these ads at the time. People were complaining that they were far too graphic and disturbing.

Since that time, however, the issue of distracted driving has become all that more pressing. Texting has become a major cause of traffic accidents in the U.S. Anyone who drives with regularity has seen someone texting in the next lane or worse, been behind someone that is swerving with their head down, punching away at their phone.

The most recent example of this has been Dr. Frank Ryan, better known as the plastic surgeon who transformed reality television star Heidi Montag into a walking Barbie doll. He drove off the side of a cliff inCalifornia this summer, reportedly while texting and driving. This conjures up some pretty disturbing mental images to be sure, but likely nothing compared to what you will see in this public anti-texting announcement developed in the U.K.

Fair warning, this is very graphic.

Clearly this ad goes to great lengths to make its point, but it has received well over a million views on YouTube. If you felt that VW crossed a line, there will be no question as to your thoughts on this one.

Still, is this the only way to get our attention in this Attention Deficit Disorder society? Can we only break through the clutter of the distractions in our lives and in our media with graphic messages like these?

The Sussex Safer Roads Partnership felt that getting an auto safety related message to people could be done differently.

Here, we get all the emotion and all of the impact that we received from the gorier anti-texting ad before it but without the violence. This ad too has been passed around and viewed well over a million times. Unlike the other ads, however, this one leaves you with a smile instead of a look of shock.

So which is the more persuasive, memorable and impactful? Only the viewer can say for sure but I would submit that from time to time, it is important to remind people of the reality of their decisions, even if that means some graphic visuals. Still, the public can only handle so much of that type of message on an ongoing basis. To that end, the Sussex ad offers a creative and effective alternative. Hopefully, other PSA developers will take note.

Innovation: It’s the new black

This was a thought from an online group of media and marketing experts who were discussing innovation, its definition, and how to capture it. So, how do you define innovation? The new Tide “On the go” stick? Electric cars? iAds? All of the above? What is the secret sauce to obtaining innovation? I wish I knew. However you define it, I think you will agree that we could all use more of it.

During this conversation, several ideas were offered. The first response I heard that resonated was a bit of the “glass half-empty” perspective. The thinking was that much innovation is just smoke and mirrors. That much of what we are told as both consumers as well as businesses within the industry is just hype intended to lull you into a false sense of a companies mastery and to entice you to buy or follow. That same argument bore the idea that even if that is true, that it is still necessary and worthwhile because at the bare minimum it keeps us on our toes and for some, it keeps them reaching for perhaps truer innovation.

For many that drive to keep reaching is causing real anxiety. The pressure to innovate is at an all-time high brought on partly by the economy, lack of jobs, lack of job security, poor P&L statements as well as the need to impress upon shareholders and consumers alike that the company or entity is still a worthwhile cause.

I was discussing this with a few of the aforementioned colleagues when some began freely admitting that the game of innovation can be played two ways. The first is the  “ play to win” strategy. The second is the “play not to lose” approach. Over the last couple of years, a lot of people have been adopting the latter approach. Sometimes the players themselves do not realize that they have actually chosen that path but instead were just led that way. The question is why and how do they get into that space? Well in truth that is what their employers have been incentivizing them to do. I am not suggesting that the company mantra is “just get by”, it is much more subtle than that. The real drivers are the goals and performance metrics that are the basis for the financial compensation, bonuses, profit sharing, etc. that they receive. Most companies are unwittingly directing their people to deliver the status quo through the establishment of those status quo metrics. This coupled with the obvious fear of losing your job if you stick your neck out too far are pretty compelling motivators to not do more than you must. The funny thing is that of the dozen or so media and marketing executives and professionals that were discussing this, all agreed that if you polled marketing execs, they would all say that they are playing to win. But even amongst our small group, more than one admitted to playing it safe, something they would never speak of in a poll or public place. How to avoid this?

Outside of the compensation and incentive packages the things that we agreed were the biggest killers of innovation are pretty obvious:

  1. Fear. The ultimate idea killer. And without the right incentive, it is rare to find the individual who is so passionate that they step out of the safe zone and do it anyway.
  2. Arrogance. On the flip side when you are the best, at least in your own mind, and have always been at the top, you can lull yourself into a false sense of security pretty quickly. The two examples we discussed were Apple and P&G. Both highly regarded and known for their innovation. Apple of late has continued to innovate but have had a few missteps that could be chalked up to arrogance. (Think app or iAd  development for starters) P&G for the past few years was seemingly in a rut which again could be attributed to their elite status, they however seem to be really emerging again as of late.

What drives those people or cultural changes that spawns innovation?

  1. Passion. At the end of the day, no matter what you are paid or what incentives you are given, you do what you love to do and are most creative when you work in that space, this is not taught, it is there; it is a drive from within. A colleague told me that Bill Gates once said that Steve Jobs had the head of an engineer and the heart of an artist.
  2. Time and practice. For this I am reminded of the latest book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers. In it he discusses how people like Wayne Gretsky, Michael Jordan, and even Bill Gates achieved the successes that they have – they practiced more. 10,000 hours at least. Now you don’t do anything that often if you don’t really love it, which ties us back to the first point.
  3. Leadership. Again, pretty obvious, but without a culture of communication, support and a drive to succeed as a team (no “I” in team”) innovation is DOA.
  4. Risk Assessment: A good leader too will know that to get to that one brilliant innovative idea, there will be tens if not hundreds of not such good ones. Supporting this environment and encouraging failure, so to speak, is essential. 3M did this. They have 7 pillars of innovation that are part of their corporate mantra. Here are the first 6.
    1. Commitment to Innovation.  6% of revenue to R&D.  1/5 of this outlay goes to “pursuits with no immediate practicality”
    2. Tolerate mistakes. Corporate culture.keep it alive through oral history
    3. Innovation via broad base of technology.  Apply one to another
    4. Talk, talk, talk. Networking, formal and informal
    5. Quantify efforts.  Which work, which don’t
    6. Research tied to customer.  Spend time with them, learn what adds value

I chatted with Susan Cohen, who is a student getting her PhD on Innovation and Strategy. She had some really powerful thoughts and ideas so I will end with just a few of those.

“There are industry drivers, firm drivers and individual drivers – and of course they are all linked. Industries change over time and as they change, it creates opportunities for innovation at the firm level. As an industry changes – smart firms see the writing on the wall and innovate to the future – scenario innovation.

The hardest thing for many firms is to cannibalize, yet the firms that are willing to cannibalize are consistently better at innovation. Does a firm need to innovate to “win” (or not “lose”)? I would argue no. Imitation can be a great innovation strategy. The biggest advantage of imitation is that your failure rate is lower and many times, imitators improve on the original idea (think Google/Yahoo!) What a firm can’t do though is to rest on its laurels. Inertia is a pretty serious firm killer

As an industry evolves, there is at first an explosion of new firms who enter the new category (.com). Over time, the number of firms declines until it reaches a plateau (.bust). Knowing where your industry/category is in its life cycle can help you form innovation strategies. Innovating in an expanding world requires differentiation, learning what works, and offering lots of products. But when the number of firms in your category is declining you may want to consider how to shift to more mass-market/broader reach products. Along the way, innovation typically shifts to cost and performance advantages. (So stop adding new features if you are here!)

Some quick innovation advice: If you are a small company, form an external innovation board with customers, suppliers, friends or students and academics. New ideas often come from outside the company. Helping each other on a rotational basis can help breed new ideas and expand your horizons. If nothing else it should get you out of a rut. Go to a conference totally outside of your field – again get new ideas flowing.

For brainstorming, follow a framework. My personal favorite is add/subtract/multiply/divide. But there are others. Most innovation is premised on adding new stuff to old stuff (what else can my phone do?!?!)Try looking in other dimensions – what is the minimum viable product you could offer? How would that change your market? Could you combine that market with something else to make something totally different? Multiply: What’s the core of your product? What would happen if your product had 2, 3 or 4 of them (think razor blades)? Divide: What if your product had a fraction of the power? Of the size? You get the idea.

My other favorite innovation strategy is to “follow the customer.” What does the customer do before/after using your product? Can you integrate that into your offering? The CVS minute-clinic is a great example of this.”

Subaru Embraces “Mediocrity”

Advertising Tweaks The Competition, But Will It Resonate?

Subaru has long cultivated its reputation as a brand for nonconformists. Its cars, with their all-wheel-drive systems and boxer engines, have always set the brand outside the technological mainstream, just as its marketing has often spoken to a devoted owner base at the niche level. But its latest campaign, called, “Mediocrity,” stokes the brand’s rebellious image with a scathing and sarcastic criticism of its competition.

The campaign includes TV ads but it’s mostly based around a website http://www.subaru.com/content/static/fightmediocrity/index.html that pretends to introduce the new 2011 Mediocrity, a car so boring that it’s only available in beige. The website may, in fact, set a record for using the most different shades of beige, a perfect complement for the most uninspiring vehicle you have likely ever laid eyes on. But this fake car, the Mediocrity, is actually a thinly disguised, previous-generation Kia Optima. And that’s what makes the whole endeavor interesting, that Subaru is so openly cynical about its competition, and by extension, the state of the midsize sedan market in general.

The website is actually quite funny, with plenty of clever stuff, like a quiz to evaluate whether or not you are right for the car. Questions include: “I think it would be fun to: A. Jump out of an airplane B. Weave a basket or two” and “I would like to be a professional: A. Volcano Diver B. Burlap Sack Manufacturer.” After I completed the quiz, I was told, “Unfortunately, the testing results show that you are not mediocre enough for the 2011 Mediocrity. We suggest the following tips to help take your mediocrity up a notch: Prune a Shrub, Stop Using Exclamation Points, Buy a Rock Tumbler, Detangle a Garden Hose.” Of course all this has to have a payoff for Subaru, which comes in a link back to the Subaru website that’s disguised with this kind of verbiage: “Or click here to drive a car more suited to your lifestyle.” On the Subaru site, there’s a video of the Legacy with the tagline “Fight Mediocrity.” While this is all fun and clever, I have my concerns whether quite a few people are going to get lost before they ever get to the Subaru site itself.

Beyond the website, there are three ads that seem to be in rotation right now. The first is simply called “2011 Subaru Mediocrity”.

The second is called “Designers” and feels like so many other car ads we have seen where the designers pontificate on their brilliance, but this one does it in reverse.

The last is called “Spokesman”. Again, another tried and true auto ad tactic done in jest.

The campaign is really anti-auto industry insofar as Subaru is poking fun at the hype that is typically associated with auto launches. You know what I mean, the ads where the announcer brags about the latest amazing innovation or styling element. (The premise is not entirely new, as you may recall Nissan Altima’s “The Cure for the Common Car” campaign.

But any anti-establishment concept like this is also wrought with obvious risk.

First, I have had more than one person ask me if the Mediocrity vehicle was a real car. Now I have to think that most would see the obvious parody, but one can never make too many assumptions when it comes to what people might believe. (Look at the world of politics if you don’t believe me.) Next is that people might be turned off by the parody itself and feel as though it is insulting. Then there are others who might actually believe that Subaru does not care or is not taking the business of making cars seriously.

Then there is the issue that while it may be fine to poke fun at the big boys — in this case taking aim at Toyota or Ford — it is not very credible when you are not next in line for the sale.

Subaru’s sales have actually done quite well over the past three years with 2009 being their best ever at 216,652 vehicles sold, which was a 15 percent increase over 2008. This year Subaru’s sales increases on a percentage basis are among the strongest in the business. Yet Subaru still barely scratches the top 10 automotive companies. In a market where there are dozens of new car entries, and much discussion of new car companies (think Tesla), Subaru rarely breaks through. And regardless of the clutter in the automotive space, Subaru has little brand consideration.

As marketers, one of our first goals is to get on the shopping lists, we call it the “consideration set,” of as many consumers as possible. The next goal is to get the customer to the dealership or at least to a website where the customer can price and equip a vehicle and hopefully request a quote or find a dealer. Unless you can get yourself on that shopping list, you struggle mightily. Subaru it seems, has been doing a decent job of gaining some traction, but when the competition is outpacing it exponentially, these slight gains may be insignificant. Subaru is not only not next in line to Toyota and Ford, but it is about eight slots away. So the believability factor for a vehicle that is not on that consideration set seems far fetched.

That said, I tend to see more of the positives in this campaign — but I am always going to give credit to the company that is not afraid to step out of the norm to make a statement and gain some attention for their brand. In this case, what does Subaru have to lose? They are admittedly at the bottom of the auto manufacturing pack in terms of sales and awareness. They have seen some gains in sales but are likely seeking far more than the incremental sales they have been achieving so far. They are also probably quite convinced that their current customer base, one that has a slightly higher level of education, disposable income and is geographically located at the edges of the country, will see the humor in this parody and will be all the more emotionally attached to the brand as a result.

At the end of the day, as with all ad campaigns, the success will be seen in the showroom. My prediction is that this will work in favor of Subaru, providing more attention and delivering a brand image of smart, funny, and out-of-the-norm. All of which are refreshing in the sea of sameness — the mediocrity — that we are often subjected to.

Scary Marketing

I love Halloween. I love the smell of caramel apple, the carved pumpkins, the abundant chocolate, and watching old scary movies from my youth. As I was getting into the spirit this week and thinking of what to write for this blog, I kept thinking about the idea of “Spooky Marketing.” Arguably the largest obstacle, topic, area of legislation in the marketing world today is the idea of privacy. This includes behavioral marketing, certain CRM efforts, some viral marketing efforts, and sometimes even loyalty and customer service programs. To many these things are “scary,” they feel like marketers are infringing on their personal space and the government is using it as a platform. To others though, these efforts are a warm welcome in a sea of spam attacks. Many want to be marketed to for products and services that they actually care about or have an interest in while filtering out those that are so clearly off base.

But like so much political propaganda, people are being “warned” about marketers data collection. Some are twisting what is intended to be good and making it look evil. But perhaps there are others that really are evil?

This video on YouTube has been viewed nearly 900,000 times and what is more fascinating than the statistic laden video itself are the comments that ensue. Most skew negative in that they question the information, ask whether we are creating a “Google” society that eliminates real human, face-to-face interaction, and others question whether or not social media is dumbing-down our society by propagating false information.

I am part of a group of digital media experts, practitioners, and owners that was discussing this video this week. The conversation that they engaged in was really interesting and to me, quite surprising. These lovers of digital life, progressives in the world of digital marketing, began to talk about many of the companies that are collecting this data and in some cases, seemingly collaborating with government. One digital guru stated, “The behavioral targeting technology and government incursions into our private lives go hand in hand. Presently, the ‘hottest’ company in the video space uses behavioral data to recommend additional video clips to view. The company is Taboola, an Israeli company that spun out from Israeli intelligence. The department of defense and NSA have invested heavily in this technology. One report had Google receiving a $50 million grant from the NSA years ago to share their technology (this may or may not be true). The one saving grace is that these technologies employed really are not overwhelmingly effective. Orwell was half right…he railed against government intrusion (as he was a staunch anti-communist), but he did not envision the complete collusion between corporate and government power.”

Is he crazy? Maybe not. I was reading a Wall Street Journal article the other day titled “A Web Pioneer Profiles Users by Name.” The article goes on to discuss a company called RapLeaf Inc. that collects personal information, even your name, but uses/sells only the generic version of your information to allow political candidates to better target you. Still, they have the most personal of information on each person they have cookied. So the question is, is this right or wrong? Or is it a shade of grey?

It is not “grey” to many of the conspiracy theorists out there. You remember the former Governor Jesse Ventura? He was on a “Conspiracy Theories” marathon on Tru.TV espousing similar feelings as those above. On yet another site, I found this statement by a well respected marketer, “I interpret the current state of affairs as an amalgam of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World,’ in which he envisioned a society that essentially amuses itself to death (sound familiar?), and George Orwell’s Big Brother of ‘1984’ fame. Speaking of conspiracy theories, I’d suggest that the major media players –in collusion with government at virtually all levels — is a pure and illegitimate cartel, not unlike the Federal Reserve and the IMF.  The major commercial media players wrap themselves like scoundrels in the protective mantle of the First Amendment, but in reality are to free speech what the Federal Reserve and the IMF are to worldwide monetary stability.”

Heavy stuff and more than a little scary. I myself have been a glass-half-full person most of my life so I tend to see the good in what behavioral marketing and appropriate targeting can do, but there is plenty of evidence that there may be those out there that are far more malicious in their intent. So the question is do we stunt the progress of this realm of digital marketing in an effort to stave off the evil? Or, do we do more to reveal the truth in the good that we do in this space to once and for all overcome the paranoia and propaganda? Heavy stuff to ponder as we Trick or Treat.