Archive for September, 2008

Ain’t It the Truth?

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , on September 30, 2008 by matts76

Viral marketing has exploded as of late thanks to advancements in new media technology that literally changes by the day.  More than ever, marketers can let consumers create the actual creative and come up with the next great idea to help push a product or brand to the next level.  It also adds authenticity to claims about products and acts as great testimonials when consumers are advocates. 

With all of this, it is still important for marketers to remember that, despite such innovative developments in media, the basics of truth in advertising still apply.  As set forth by the FTC, some of those basics include:

  • Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
  • Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
  • Advertisements cannot be unfair. 
  • If you’re way into regulations, you can read more here

    As short films and viral videos take off through sites like YouTube, it’s important for marketers to remain sane and not push envelopes too far when it comes to claims made by products and services.  Since anyone can produce anything these days and post it online with little more than a video camera and a free copy of Windows Moviemaker or similar software, there is no shortage of less-than-credible content out there.  Don’t let your product or brand fall into the trap of exaggerations or unbelievable claims just because a cool video can be created that offers some sweet technology that can manipulate reality. 

    This reminds me of the episode on Discovery a few weeks ago where the Mythbusters debunked online videos as being real or fake.  Astonishingly enough, all videos proved to be true, though some elements of what was presented needed modified to make them work.  Here’s a sample of a car that is lifted into the air by connecting a few fire hoses to it…pretty cool:

    While all vids were proven to be truthful, the fact that consumers are automatically skeptical enough of online video to allow Mythbusters to feature an entire hour-long episode about it provides insight into how consumers like to seek out information and then form their own opinions and thoughts.  As a marketer, keep it cool, cutting edge, relevant, but truthful when it comes to short films and viral campaigns.

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    Mobile Marketing While Mobile?

    Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2008 by matts76

    The tragic events associated to the commuter train collision in Los Angeles that killed 25 several days ago raise questions that could be punted to marketers as to what impact, if any, new mobile marketing applications have on consumer safety. As reported by NPR in this story, the engineer of the LA passenger train was allegedly text messaging with teenage “rail buffs” just minutes before the crash, missing verbal and manual safety signals in the process.

    It’s already widely debated as to the ethics of mobile and other forms of marketing because of privacy concerns, as presented via this law firm’s website. But what implications could there be if mobile marketing interaction were ultimately found to be at the core of investigations tied to accidents such as that which occurred in LA? There are already bans on cell phone use while driving in places like the nation’s capital and elsewhere. However, nothing has been implemented nationally as of yet.

    In this article, the New York Times reports that some 75 billion text messages were sent in the month of June alone. The article goes on to cite that some experts feel that texting and engaging with mobile devices while performing other tasks from walking across a busy street to driving decreases IQ points by 10.

    Congress is already looking to pass sweeping rail safety reforms in lieu of the recent LA accident, so, what could the future hold for mobile marketers? Similar to the restrictions placed on TV and other media where more adult content must be restricted until after 10pm, I wonder if reforms that limit the hours of the day in which mobile marketing messages can be sent are on the horizon.

    With most consumers commuting and engaging in attention-critical tasks during a normal workday from, say 8:30am to 6:30pm, I’m curious to see if, eventually, mobile marketing messages may be restricted to hours before and after these timeframes. I guess it’s kind of similar to the somewhat annoying telemarketer calls that notoriously arrived during the dinner hour, if such a thing still exists in time-pressed America. I welcome any feedback, pro or con, tied to the future of text messaging, mobile marketing, and cell phone use in general while also engaging in other tasks that require attention.

    Spending Marketing Green That’s Not So Green…The Esquire e-Ink Cover

    Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2008 by matts76

    Several days ago, I received my 75th anniversary copy of Esquire magazine. Skimming its pages, I noticed a brief mention that some copies of the magazine included a unique e-ink version of the cover. I was curious to learn more, so, I conducted a Google search for Esquire and found that the e-Ink edition of the cover included a flashing “The 21st Century Begins Now” message that flashed on an otherwise normal looking magazine cover. For your enjoyment, here it is:

    In a world of mobile marketing, technology drenched consumers are always looking for the next unique gimmick. I thought to myself that Esquire just may have figured out a unique way to merge the traditional form of print marketing with the latest innovations in technology via e-Ink. As an aside, for a complete explanation of how e-Ink works, I defer to HowStuffWorks. Give it a read if you’re interested. It’s more or less the same technology that’s behind Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s eBook reader. Kinda cool I guess.

    After doing a bit more digging, I not only found that this marketing gimmick, which may or may not have sold more copies of the magazine, was not only expensive, but has also drawn criticism for not being very green. To paraphrase Gordon Gecko, and change one letter of his famous quote in the process, when it comes to today’s business and marketing practices “Green is Good.” In the case of Esquire’s 75th anniversary cover, it cost a lot of green to produce, and isn’t so eco-friendly. Treehugger.com presents an interesting story about the cover and surrounding controversy. In a nutshell, it details how expense was incurred from shipping in the components used to power the e-Ink cover from Mexico and China, how refrigerated trucks need to be used when shipping the special edition mags to preserve battery life, etc. , etc. and how how the thin batteries used in the process weren’t eco-friendly.

    In fairness to Esquire, I think they did a good job of countering such not-so-green accusations with tips on how to recycle both the magazine and the digital cover. For marketers, the question is what the cost incurred for the use of technology is worth versus the payoff. With estimations in the six figure range to get the special editions of the magazine onto store shelves, would the money have been more wisely used for more widely distributed and less costly mobile marketing alternatives that may also attract new, digital native consumers to the publication?

    Like any good marketing campaign, a clear call to action should be established. In this case, I was trying to determine if the special e-Ink editions were meant to create buzz because of relative scarcity, sell extra magazines at the newsstand, generate new subscriptions? It’s hard to tell. I do know that those who’ve been attempting to sell copies on Ebay for, in some cases, over 10x what the newsstand price is, have not received much interest. The bombardment of marketing messages and mass production and commoditization of products today make this type of hype short lived and questionable in effectiveness.
    In this instance, the message to marketers is to make sure a call to action is clear, the intended result isn’t muddy, and an evaluation of truly innovative yet cost effective, and, at least in the current market, green, is conducted.

    I am curious to see what the future holds for e-Ink innovation. Esquire could very well be ahead of the curve in the adoption of such technology to revive a declining print media market. With wider adoption, prices could drop and innovation could lead to greener e-Ink solutions as well that would make it a potential win-win. If such technology became even more interactive with, say, mobile devices, the possibilities are endless.

    Go Play!

    Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on September 14, 2008 by matts76

    It can be argued that the terms “go play” and “interactive” have very different meanings for children today than they did twenty five years ago. Today, kids would most likely associate those terms with some sort of interactive technology like a Wii or Playstation or iPod. Though, when I was a child, these terms literally meant to go outside and play and interact with friends. I distinctly remember a childhood friend’s father telling us to “go play” if we attempted to spend an afternoon inside during the summer watching TV instead of being active children. Looking back, those two words have stuck with me and will be used when my wife and I have children as well.

    It’s ironic that “Go Play” is now part of a marketing campaign from Nestle that rewards children for being active. Has society really gotten to a point where we have to reward children for going outside and interacting, playing with others, and running to the point of exhaustion? Apparently. When I was young, a successful summer was defined by knees that has been skinned so many times because of rugged play that they were scabbed over well into the Fall. Loved it.

    As marketers, I think we have more channels available to us to deliver marketing messages to advertise the latest toys, candy, and cereal to children, but the ethics incorporated in doing so should still be held to the highest standards. Keeping in mind the audience, children, is critical. Keeping messages literal and comprehensible is important.

    At the same time, I think there needs to be a wake up call to parents regarding their children. It’s not the marketing messages themselves that are impacting how children develop and act, but rather, a fundamental shift in society and what it means to be an active, well supervised child to begin with. As a child, there were fewer platforms through which marketers targeted me, but the messages were still there. I love looking back at the old commercials that were run on Saturday morning cartoons, for example. This is another great one for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toys. Notice how the ad features children actually playing with each other, outside nonetheless (what a concept), with the toy being marketed:

    My point here is that, if children are truly being children and are outside, being active, and engaging in imaginative play, they’ll naturally have less exposure to marketing messages overall but will still occasionally learn about cool new toys, games, and so on when they do watch TV or go online. I remember as a child that sugary cereal, happy meals, candy, and even watching TV inside during the day when we could be outside playing were occasional treats that we looked forward to rather than gimme’s from time-pressed parents. As a society, with childhood obesity continuing to skyrocket, it’s time to stop blaming marketers for all of the societal ills involving children.

    Parents should have the final say, and actively monitor, what their children are and are not exposed to, marketing and otherwise, especially at younger ages. If individuals deem specific games, messages, toys and foods inappropriate for their children, I applaud the active role they take in filtering such things. And, to parents nationwide, I say let’s tell America’s future to “go play”…outside that is!

    I welcome, and encourage, your comments.

    Be Sure To Get Your Parents’ Permission Before Calling…Culture Changes vs. The Marketing Blame Game

    Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on September 13, 2008 by matts76

    When it comes to the ethics of marketing to children, people tend to have some pretty strong opinions. Most are quick to blame marketers for the erosion of society and the corruption, in some respects, of children because they push products from candy to video games. I tend to disagree and found some opinions that support my thoughts.

    I feel that it’s more of a catastrophic change in American culture that has caused parents, legislators, and others to quickly blame marketers or media for issues that are actually tied to a technologically rich society that is time-pressed and always on the go. U.S. materialism has also seemed to grow through the years and marketers are responding to this rather than being the cause.

    A quick Internet search referred me to a book by Karen Sternheimer titled It’s Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children and the author makes some good points, as reflected in some excerpts. One anaylsis of the book’s content makes some supportive points to my thoughts:

    The new dangers of the Internet are explored, as well as the over-marketing of products to kids, and I again was challenged by the author’s idea that it is not the media that is over-marketing, but simply responding to a culture that is so much more materialistic than ever before. That I think we all can agree on. The chapter titles mostly all feature the word “fear” — Fear of Cartoons, Fear of the Internet, Fear of Music, and what makes this book so timely is the fact that we are living with such pervasive fear in our lives as perhaps never before. But unless we come to grips with what we are afraid of, and why, we may be harming our kids more than helping them by our media-bashing.

    I agree with these points and take things a step further in feeling that new marketing strategies are the result of a busy society that uses things like online games created by strategic marketers as babysitters for parents who are too busy to spend actual quality time with children. For example, Hot Wheels offers a pretty cool games site to attract children while also tying in heavily with their toy cars and playsets.

    The site follows all of the rules of marketing to children online as established by the FTC and others. You can read through them if you’d like, as they’re a pretty good cure for insomnia.

    What’s more concerning to me is not the marketing messages or online delivery via games, but rather that our society has reached a point where children are increasingly more sluggish and sedentary and sit in front of the TV, video games, and online games like these rather than going outside to play with friends and be active. So, as children become more obese, more sedentary, and seemingly less interactive, society is quick to blame the marketers, from toymakers to fast food chains rather than the parents or guardians who don’t encourage healthful living and engagement with others for their children. Parents should still ultimately be the filter and engage their children.

    I think back to when I was a child and would watch cartoons after school and on Saturday mornings. I remember the TV ads for toys that promoted movies like Star Wars to action figures like He-Man. While I received many marketing messages, it was nowhere near the volume children receive online, offline, and in print these days. However, I did a search for some of the old toy commercials from my childhood and found a striking difference from most that are available today.

    They all mentioned the standard things like “some assembly required,” “sold separately,” and so on. But they also incorporated parents into the the ads and often show children being active and playing with the toys outside rather than sitting passively in front of a computer screen. This ad for Star Wars toys, for example, markets to children, but definitely ties in parents as well by actually addressing them specifically:

    In the end, it seems that it still is the responsibility of parents to make sure that marketing messages aimed at their children are filtered and explained as needed. As marketers, it is more of our responsibility to ensure truth in what is presented, that ads are created with childrens’ ages and cognitive abilities in mind, and adhere to what is “right” vs. what may be “legal.” As the old saying goes, if your get instinct tells you something doesn’t feel right, you’re probably right, so don’t do it. It can help to avoid a lot of headaches down the road.

    When New Media Integrated Marketing Communications Aren’t Integrated – Can You Hear Me Now? Part Deux

    Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , on September 7, 2008 by matts76

    Friday, September 5, or, as I referred to it, “new phone service installation day,” finally arrived and I was working from home. Still proud of myself for completing my new phone service transaction with no human interaction and no extraneous marketing messages beyond a word-of-mouth referral and website phone package selection and ordering, I anxiously waiting for the Verizon technician. Should arrive anytime between 8 and 5, the website told me.

    I thought I’d try and scope out some Verizon blogs to see if anyone may have posted anything about technician promptness. I thought this would be particularly insightful, because people who are savvy enough to order service online would probably also blog about their ordering experiences, both good and bad, via online platforms like blogs. I was relieved to find relatively few blogs devoted specifically to problems with Verizon landline service, which was a relief. However, as this blog reports, people have been upset by customer “dis-service” as the blogger posted, tied to wireless service.

    Hmm…I thought. This type of feedback made me want to investigate service further. I also decided that I should give the local number on Verizon’s website a call to see if they had any better estimation as to when a technician would be at the house, beyond the general 8-5 window. This is where things began to unravel, and limited human contact, for marketing messages and the integrated marketing element known as customer service, wasn’t such an asset but started to become a liability for the company. I first encountered an automated welcome message that started in the traditional way…(give a listen if you’ve been living on Mars for the past few years)

    While I am amazed at how voice recognition technology allows the system to process my requests without me pressing a button, I did become frustrated when the options offered weren’t exactly what I was looking for since I just needed an order status. I finally got routed to a service rep line, but was put on hold for sevarl minutes. When I did get connected to a live person, I was told that I had been connected to the wrong department and was transferred at least two more times. The last person I spoke with indicated that there were issues with my online order and she couldn’t reach the office that handled these. She offered to call me back, so I wouldn’t have to wait. Uh oh.

    I finally received a call back and was informed that a service call was scheduled for a few weeks from now, which was baffling. My assumption is that my online order got lost in the shuffle, as I’d not received my e-mail confirmation, which may have been caught by a spam filter and deleted, and a human had then created a new installation request. I was becoming increasingly frustrated because the wonders of new media were quickly becoming out of sync and definitely not integrated with the customer service and other marketing options from Verizon.

    I was then connected to yet another service representative and was told that, after all of the frustrations I’d experienced with being bounced around among service reps and my online order being in an online black hole someplace, that a technician didn’t need to come to the house after all. She mentioned that service should automatically be connected. This made me think back to marketing messages received after completing my order, and I recalled that it was never clearly stated that a technician would not need to visit.

    I then inquired into adding a long distance package, as several deals were available through the website. Rather than assisting with the upsell opportunity that I initiated, the rep actually let me know that she didn’t know how they’d tie an upgrade into the order I’d already placed. She didn’t have to try and market anything to me, the website did all of the work of providing package features and benefits, but, ultimately, the sale was lost because I was frustrated that it, too, would be screwed up in the process and I’d end up with fourteen different bills or something.

    As of this post, I’m still waiting for my phone to be connected, as I was told that it could be within the next few days, and am still uncomfortable that it actually will. From a marketing perspective, there were definitely disconnects in what should have been an integrated process. All online efforts should be in sync with any live assistance that is needed, especially when someone is trying to place an order.

    After being so pleased with the initial ease of online ordering (I even provided glowing feedback when I received an online survey after my service transaction request had been completed), I became dismayed at the frustrations, and loss of an in-office day of work, for something that should have been relatively simple to complete. I guess the need for quality human interaction to verify orders such as these are placed correctly and service appointments confirmed properly will need to continue, at least in the near future.

    When New Media Integrated Marketing Communications Aren’t Integrated – Can You Hear Me Now? Part Un

    Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , on September 7, 2008 by matts76

    Several days ago I decided that we needed to get basic landline telephone service connected so that we can get an alarm installed in our new home. So, I decided to see what Verizon offered online as far as services and packages, as they were recommended over competitors by the alarm company. This is because true landline service is generally more reliable than VoIP and other digital technology when it comes to generating false alarms. Funny how word-of-mouth marketing works when it comes to steering me toward a particular product or service!

    When I visited the Verizon website, I was pleasantly surprised to find a relatively straightforward presentation that guided me through residential versus business services and then allowed me to choose between phone, Internet, cable, etc. to begin the service purchasing process. Being able to complete all of this online reminded me of marketing services that will probably become obsolete in the future, and, live customer service came to mind as I easily navigated through the packages offered by Verizon with no human interaction. Even if human interaction were necessary, this site, as well as many others I’ve visited lately, offer an online chat feature that still makes hearing a human voice a thing of the past.

    Here is a sample of the straightforward presentation of phone options that I encountered on Verizon’s website:

    I was psyched to be able to order my basic phone service, that totaled less than fifty dollars for the set up and first month, without any assistance from humans at all. No upselling marketing tactics, no pitches for other services that I already have, etc. I didn’t even have to make contact via chat! I received my confirmation number, which was also going to be e-mailed to me and received a confirmation that a technician would arrive three days after I’d placed my order, between 8am and 5pm, to make sure service was set up.

    Thanks to new media and online marketing, the need to deal with live humans was a thing of the past! Now, I just had to confirm that I’d be working from home while I waited for the phone company to arrive, and I was set. From ordering phone service completely online to being able to find phone numbers witout leafing through giant yellow books, marketing via new media seemed grand, and simplified my life, or, so I thought.