Monday, November 26, 2007

Will WGA Strike be the Knockout Blow to the TV Networks?

We’re in week 3 of the writers’ strike. The big news is that the two sides have agreed to return to the bargaining table this week to try and reach an agreement. As a consumer, you may not have felt an impact yet. It will still be a couple of weeks before you realize that your favorite shows are only airing repeats. Grey’s Anatomy has 2 episodes left to air and will make it to mid-December. Can’t wait for the return of 24? Sorry, that won’t be premiering in January as scheduled. If The Office is your favorite, you’re already done. No new episodes will be coming your way for a while. Like Lost? Who needs 16 – 20 episodes? They have eight in the can. After that … Hey, there’s always American Idol. God help us.

As a professional, if you haven’t felt the impact already you will soon, very soon. NBC doesn’t have a single spot for sale for the next four months. Once the repeats start, ratings will tank (further) and your clients’ schedule will start under delivering (more than it normally does). You’ll have no place to run your ADUs. The term “cash back” is going to apply to more than that credit card offer in your mailbox. If you sat out the upfront and were planning on getting what you need in scatter, you’re going to need to make other plans.

A brief recap in case you haven’t been paying attention: The writers want to get paid residuals whenever their content airs on DVD or online. The studios don’t want to pay them for these re-airs. It’s pretty much that simple. This video explains the writers’ position.

Granted, it’s from the writers’ perspective. But you know what? I’m buying. The studios are being greedy. And guess who has the most to lose? The TV networks. Ratings have been declining for quite some time and this will make it worse. The networks risk losing more of their audience to other forms of entertainment. Conventional wisdom says that it’s tougher to get a viewer back than it is to keep him. The networks can’t afford to be losing any more viewers these days. The writers should be in the driver’s seat. But how long can they hold out? It’s truly David vs. Goliath here.

But if we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that TV is resilient. It’s less about the audience that is being delivered and more about supply and demand. En masse, advertisers haven’t abandoned ship yet. Sure, we grumble about price increases and audience decreases, but not many of us have backed that up with our clients’ pocketbooks.

Will this be the death blow for the TV Networks? Probably not. But it will surely exacerbate their problems. The studios need to realize this and pay the writers.

People are attracted to good, quality content whether it’s on the network, on-line, or in-book. When the writers come back and the content comes back, the viewers will come back. At least some of them will. Won't they?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Furniture and Baseball

Answer: A car. A House. Jewelery. Your Health. A Vacation. A cash payout for a hole-in-one.

Question: What are things that you can buy insurance for?

So, it stands to reason that you can buy insurance for furniture, right?

Those of you in the Boston area are familiar with Jordan's Furniture. For those of you elsewhere, here’s a quick primer on their recent promotion.

Back in March and April, during MLB Spring Training and Opening Day, Jordan's launched a promotion with the Boston Red Sox. If the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, any furniture purchase made between March 7th and April 16th would be free. They promoted it like mad. Ads were all over the local Boston media. Custom creative was developed. A formal partnership with the team was struck.

In Boston, the Red Sox are a cultural phenomenon, not just a baseball team. Local consumers, beyond just the die-hard fans, truly want the Red Sox to do well. Jordan's did a great job of associating themselves with the team in a meaningful way.

Too much of sports sponsorship these days is just slapping a logo here and there, creating a vignette, getting a bunch of tickets for corporate entertainment, and oh yeah – almost forgot the most important part – overpaying. What Jordan's did was fresh, authentic, and connected with people on an emotional level. In short, it was brilliant.

Right now, there’s a guy in an insurance office somewhere squirming in his chair. It’s almost time to pay the piper. The odds were pretty good that he’d never have to pay out. After all, there are 32 teams in MLB. Probably 8-10 of those teams have a legitimate shot at winning the World Series. So he figured, there would be only a 10% chance of ever having to pay out. As of this writing, (World Series starts tomorrow) it’s up to a 50% chance.

From a marketing perspective, this is a great example of customizing a marketing campaign to a particular market. This promotion simply wouldn’t work in most markets. The retailer built tremendous goodwill and positioned themselves as rooting for the same thing as their consumers. And consumers responded. Sales during the promotional time period were estimated at more than $20,000,000. One guy furnished his entire house at a cost of $40,000. Talk about having a rooting interest in the outcome of a sporting event!

P.S. While writing this, I just fielded a call from one of my Yankees freinds who told me he's now rooting for the Red Sox because his parents have a couch riding on it. This was unprompted - no lie.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What’s Your Privacy Worth?

Have you ever been tempted to sit through the time share sales pitch and take the 4-hour tour in order to get the “free” 3 day / 2 night Orlando vacation? How much are you willing to put up with to get something for nothing?

Do you use gmail? If you do, you may know that Google scans your inbox and delivers ads that are relevant to certain keywords in your email messages. Do you care? Are you okay with this in exchange for a free email account?

What about your phone conversations? Would you be okay with voice recognition software listening in on your phone conversations in order to serve you contextually relevant ads in exchange for free phone service? A company called Pudding Media is launching that very service. It was written up in the New York Times recently. It got me thinking about the price consumers are willing to pay to get what they want. What they want could be content such as TV programming, radio shows, music, web content or online video games. It could also be a free service such as an email account or phone service.

And what’s in it for the advertiser? Are these consumers as receptive as those who’ve paid for their content (think HBO, a magazine you may subscribe to, or Halo 3 for which you’ve just plunked down $50)? Or are these consumers just willing to put up the ad messages in order to get the free service. Obviously, consumers prefer ad free environments as evidenced buy the success of TiVo, Satellite Radio, etc).

My “retire early, make me a millionaire” idea is based on the premise that consumers will sacrifice a certain degree of privacy if there is a significant end benefit. Most people in the industry know that the way TV audiences are measured by Nielsen is dreadfully antiquated and project an unbelievably small sample size out to the general population. Yet, we live with it because it’s all that we’ve got and it is the accepted currency in the industry. Now, getting back to the part where I become a millionaire … would you care if your TV viewing behavior was tracked electronically through your cable box? What if your cable bill was reduced by $5 per month in exchange for this information? I don’t care who knows what I watch, I’d do it. And I bet most of you would too. In exchange, advertisers get reliable data from a large sample of consumers. Imagine the leap forward in local and national ratings data. Overnights would become actuals instantly. Minute by minute ratings you ask? No problem. Wonder if the “A” position is better than the “D” position? We’d have the answer. The benefit to advertisers would be endless. And while I’d get $5 off my cable bill each month, that wouldn’t really matter because I’d be a millionaire for coming up with the idea that put Nielsen out of business.

Now, if anybody has a thought on how to execute this, there may be $5 per month in it for you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Gearing up for the new Fall Season

The kids are back at the bus stop. There’s a slight chill in the night air. And if you look closely, you may be able to find a few leaves that have started to turn. Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. Many people find this depressing. But it also marks the pending arrival of the new fall television season. The days of the Reality Show of the Week and Law & Order re-runs are coming to an end. Some of the nets are even starting to air last season’s final episodes to help get your head in the right place for this season’s twists and turns. Here are my picks and pans for the upcoming season:

Returning Shows I’m Most Looking Forward to Getting Back Into:
- Prison Break, FOX – What will happen now that Michael is stuck in that nasty prison in Panama?
- Criminal Minds, CBS – Will the shows’ high standard be maintained without Mandy Patinkin?
- Las Vegas, NBC – Watching Josh Duhamel is like looking in a mirror. :P

I wonder if these shows have Jumped the Shark:
- Nip Tuck, FX – Moving to Hollywood? Why the change of scenery? Plus, last year was the weakest yet.
- My Name is Earl, NBC – The buzz seems to have died. I just never hear anyone say “I Love That Show” anymore.
- Desperate Housewives, ABC – Is this fad over yet? I’m sure the ratings will still be decent, but it seems to have lost a bit.

New Shows I’ll sample:
- Cane, CBS – Starring Jimmy Smits … it must be good.
- Dirty, Sexy, Money, ABC – Don’t know if I’d put my clients there, but it looks entertaining
- Big Shots, ABC – Male version of desperate housewives. The backdrop is a Country Club so how bad could it be?

New shows that you couldn’t pay me to watch:
- Cavemen, ABC – A show based on an insurance company’s ad campaign. No Thanks.
- New Amsterdam, FOX – So there’s this guy who died 400 years ago. He’s now immortal because an Indian girl put a spell on him. He needs to find his one true love to break the curse. Oh, and he’s a cop in NY. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Fire up the TiVo!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Deloitte & Touche published a research study last week that essentially proved that “old media” (their words) still works. As with most research, you can punch holes in this study if you are so inclined, but that’s not really the point. The point is … why are we all so defensive? Traditional media folks are sometimes threatened (as evidenced by the fact that this study even exists) by the tsunami of new media options available to clients today. But it’s not all one sided. New media folks sometimes have a Napoleon complex and don’t trust that they’re getting their “fair share”. Can’t we all just get along?

There’s room for both. We’ve gotten into this mess because it’s basically a zero sum game. Clients’ budgets aren’t increasing (not much, anyway) and there are more options to consider than ever before. Also, there’s research out there that tells us that the channels that we’ve been using in the past aren’t as effective as they once were (declining ratings, circulation losses, etc). Yet media costs continue to rise. These factors make clients want to know what else is out there. They want to know if there’s a better way to reach, engage, and communicate with their current and potential consumers. It’s a natural question. Studies such as the D&T one referenced above make their authors or presenters come off as if they have their head firmly planted in the sand.

I don’t dispute their findings, just the way they are presented. Is traditional media still effective? Of course it is. Is it as effective as it was 20, 15, 10 or even 5 years ago? Probably not. Consumers have changed. The media landscape has changed. I don’t think that anybody would dispute those statements. But to see a study like this makes me think of the band playing on the deck of the Titanic. It doesn’t even acknowledge the elephant in the room.

On the other side of the coin, you have the aforementioned tsumani of new media options. How many of them scale? Are they an adequate replacement for the status quo at this moment in time? Some are, maybe. Many aren’t. Let’s take Second Life as an example. Over the past year, brands have been tripping over themselves to set up a presence in the popular virtual world. Many of those places are ghost towns with a quantity of visitors that you can count on one hand at any particular moment in time. But there are success stories as well. The American Cancer Society held a virtual Relay for Life in SL and raised over $150,000. That’s real money and an amazing success story. But how does it translate to marketing for big brands? That question is largely unanswered. But the only way to get an answer is to experiment. That’s why I don’t throw stones at any of the brands who took a shot in SL. At least they have learnings to act upon. Which is something that they wouldn’t have had if they just dusted off last year’s media plan.

There is no cookie cutter answer. Both camps have warts. Both can also generate positive results for clients. It doesn’t have to be one Vs the other. Now hold my hand and sing … “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony …”

Friday, August 10, 2007

Will It Blend?

I've already blogged about having iPhone envy. Which is what makes this video especially wrong in my eyes!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

D'oh! The marketing behind The Simpsons Movie

My nominee for media plan of the year (so far) is The Simpson’s Movie. The challenge associated with marketing this film was to take a franchise that has been on television every week for 18 years and get people excited to see the movie. The marketing of this film is simply brilliant. By now we’ve probably all heard about the partnership where several 7-Eleven’s across the country converted their stores into Kwik-E-Mart’s, the fictional convenience store from the show. 7-Eleven also changed the name of their signature drink from a Slurpee to a Squishee during the promotion. Kudos to 7-Eleven for such extraordinary risk taking. It paid off big time as they received A LOT of PR mileage out of this. Of course, it was also a homerun for the movie. It was a true win-win partnership.

Another element of the campaign was the competition among 14 Springfields across the country for the right to hold the hometown premiere of the movie. This contest got large groups of people in 14 cities working together to create videos illustrating their enthusiasm for The Simpsons. Consumers then voted for the best video. The competition drew almost 110,000 votes. This was a great example of letting go of your brand and an excellent use of consumer generated content. Springfield, VT won the competition. Their video really got the whole town involved.

A third element of the campaign is the website where consumers can upload their own photo and have it turned into one of the characters from the Movie. It’s a very engaging web site that drew so much traffic that their servers were overloaded at the start of the campaign. A simpsonized photo of me at the Kwik-E-Mart is above.

But you can’t win Media Plan of the Year without results. And the Simpsons Movie has certainly got those. The Simpson’s Movie raked in $71.8 million on opening weekend, blowing away the aggressive $50 million projection of 20th Century Fox. It left all other films saying D'oh!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

McDonalds YouTube ad

Interesting article in today's Boston Globe about how McDonalds turned a YouTube video into an ad that they are running on local TV stations in New York. The ad was created by Arnold. It's yet another example of consumer generated content making it to mainstream channels. Bravo to McDonalds for being willing to let go of their brand like this. And to Arnold for realizing that a good idea can come from anywhere.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mad Men on AMC

Watched the 1st episode of the AMC series Mad Men last night (via Tivo of course). If you haven't heard, Mad Men is a an AMC original series about Advertising Execs in the 1950's. I actually thought it was pretty good. I'll be back for Episode #2.

For those in the business, we've all heard stories about the "old days" of advertising. This certainly qualifies. The whole plot centered around the Account Executive main character having to develop an ad campaign for a cigarette company. Which is very ironic since I just blogged last week about ethics in advertising in general and cigarette advertising in particular. So it's been on my mind.

My main take-away is: holy sexism! The women are all secretaries and are there for their bosses every need. Yes, EVERY need. There are some interesting portrails of client meetings. For those in the agency business, it's surreal. Picture a producer taking your life and recreating what it would have been like 50 years ago.

The funny part about it that I watched it via Tivo. Let's see, since I watched it 2 days after its' original airing, I guess I'd count in the Live +3 ratings currency that seems to be acceptable these days. Of course, I fast-forwarded thru all the ads. But AMC did something interesting. Between every commercial, the put in a 3-5 second interstitial on a blank white screen with red lettering containing a fact about advertising. Very clever. It took me a couple of commercial breaks worth of watching fast forwarded ads fly by before realizing that something was going on. Good job of knowing your audience AMC. You made me stop and actually watch an entire pod. Once. Then I went back to fast-forwarding. But good job none-the-less.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Blog Pimping - The GSK / alli Connect / Debbie Weil kerfuffle

Debbie Weil is a self described corporate blogging expert who caused a bit of a kerfuffle last week. Debbie has been hired by GlaxoSmithKline to promote the corporate blog for their weight-loss drug alli. The kerfuffle started because Debbie sent an email to colleagues asking them to leave comments on the blog in order to "jump start the two way conversation". The felony in all of this came in the second to last sentence which read "No need to say that you know me, of course."

This raises the question of blog pimping. Is it okay for Debbie to try and drum up traffic and comments on her clients' blog? If it is okay, why did Debbie give the appearance that she was doing something wrong by including that damning sentence? In a podcast interview, Debbie bobbed and weaved like Muhammed Ali (alli?). Given this performance, it's possible that she has a future in politics.

For me, it illustrates the pressure that media and marketing professionals are under to succeed. It takes a lot of work to convince large, old media oriented companies to try new media. When you finally break that barrier, an unsuccessful campaign can leave a bad taste in the clients mouth toward new media in general. Not to mention the fact that Debbie needs this to be successful in order to promote her own brand and company. Sometimes pressure causes people to make questionable decisions.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Advertising: Manipulative or Informative?

Let me start by saying that Advertising has been very good to me. It's put food on my table since 1993. But every once in a while something happens that makes me question the ethics of the business. The first time it happened was back in 1995 when a good friend of mine worked as a media planner on the Phillip Morris business. I watched her struggle with the ethics of her job for nine months before finally quitting. (P.S. She smoked like a chimney at the time and has since quit and has been "clean" for 10 years).

I had another one of those moments last weekend. My four year old has been watching his fair share of Nickelodeon lately (keep your parental judgements to yourself - Dad's been busy!). So last weekend, we're hanging in the back yard taking a break from a game of frisbee and he's having a snack when the following exchange occurred:

Me: How are you enjoying those Cheetos?
Him: Dad, they're Dangerously Cheesy!

I almost fell off my chair. Are you kidding me? Dangerously Cheesy? I've got to say, I laughed out loud. But it made me stop for a moment and think about the effect of advertising on young kids. Kids at that age have no BS filter. They can't distinguish between entertaining programming content and entertaining advertising. It's all the same to them. And because of that lack of a filter, advertising is very effective.

To complete the circle, it turns out that Mrs. MediaGeek made the mistake of taking the little guy with her to the grocery store for the weekly food shopping run. They came home with at least 5 things that I've never seen before including something called Yogos (yogurty covered fruit snacks!)

To see the whole advertising process in action in my very own household, which I though was impervious to such tactics, was very strange.

At it's worst, advertising can be viewed as manipulative. The poor little kid didn't stand a chance! At it's best, the advertising helped him discover the joy of Cheetos. I imagine that's how the client or agency would describe it. One thing is for sure, Advertising works.

But until I come to grips with this, he's watching nothing but PBS.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

iPhone Envy

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 2 weeks and haven’t heard, Apple released the iPhone on Friday June 29th. People camped in front of stores to be among the first to buy the device dubbed the “Jesus Phone”. At the MacWorld conference, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone as a revolutionary product (he did this while wearing jeans, sneakers, and a shirt with no collar, but that’s an article for another day). The iPhone gets us one step closer to convergence, to one device nirvana. For those of you who juggle an iPod, cell phone, blackberry, and laptop, your load just got a lot lighter.

But this is a marketing/media blog, not my own personal wish list (although judging by the amount of candy I received after the TV & Candy post, I may need to rethink that). How did the geniuses at Apple and their agency create so much buzz and anticipation that people actually slept overnight to buy their new product? In my estimation, it has 75% to-do with it being a kick#ss product. The thing rocks. But the other 25% is marketing brilliance. Apple’s TV spots do a great job at illustrating that the product is easy to use and they do it in that oh-so-Apple way. Check out one of the teaser ads here:

In addition to Apple’s TV ads, their PR machine was in full blitz mode as well. The number of articles written about the iPhone in the mainstream press and blogosphere is off the charts. There are more youtube videos about this thing than you can shake a (memory) stick at. How much of this is paid advertising? How much of it is buzz marketing? How much of it is organic WOM?

I guess the point is that it’s easy to market a great product. The iPhone might have sold out even if the ad campaign was terrible. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get a chance to work on something like this at some point in your career. The job is a lot tougher when the product doesn’t sell itself. That is when clients need us most.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Bring The Love Back

Brilliant video commentary on the relationship many of today's marketers have with consumers. Wonder why many campaigns fail?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Separated at Birth?

Steve Jobs of Apple and Elliot Tatelman of Jordan's Furniture

Their physical resemblance is what struck me initially, but the more I thought about it, they have much more in common. Both are excellent marketers. Jobs nationally, Tatelman locally. Jobs in technology, Tatelman in retail. Jobs uses new media, Tatleman uses old media. Are there lessons they can learn from each other? How does Tatelman put new media to use in a local, retail operation? Is there any benefit to Jobs in Tatelman's local community approach?

Friday, July 6, 2007

TV & Candy

The broadcast upfront wrapped up last month. Overall, the Networks take increased compared to the prior year. A couple of the themes this year were accountability (i.e. comercial ratings) and getting/giving credit for DVR playback. The result of this year's marketplace is frustrating and doesn't seem to make much sense. What if these same principle's applied in other parts of life? Que the dream sequence ...

I like Sweetarts. My favorite is the big 6 oz concession sized box. There’s nothing quite as sweet (pun intended) as relaxing after work, watching the ballgame and popping some sweetarts out of the big box. It’s what I like to do.

Many people have told me that there are several other candy manufacturers who are coming out with exciting new treats. The offerings are endless. Some of these new treats can tell me exactly how much of a sugar high I’ll get, how long it will last, and what type of crash will follow. They are very measurable. These new treats are stealing away many former Sweetart loyalists. But so far I’ve stayed the course. I love my Sweetarts.

My normal 6oz concession sized box cost $1.99. Recently, I went to Target to pick up my weekly supply and I noticed that the price was $2.49 per box. I asked the smiling, friendly-looking Target employee in the red shirt what was up with the 25% price increase. He was unapologetic and told me that if I had committed to buying the box several months earlier, he could have sold it to me for $1.99, but there is simply not that much candy left, so they raised the price. Imagine that.

He went on to tell me that in the coming year, the Candy Research Association is changing the way they measure the amount of Sweetarts in a box. As a result, the size of the package had been reduced to 5 ounces. But the cost is still $2.49. I couldn’t believe it. I asked him if I misunderstood. I need to pay 25% more and get 15% less? Yes, it’s true, he explained.

So here I am standing in the candy aisle at Target when I had a realization: I’ve been a loyal customer for many years, yet Sweetarts is charging me more and giving me less at a time when I have more options than ever before. Should I continue to hand over more and more money to satisfy my craving for Sweetarts? Or is it time to consider Mike and Ike’s?