Stop asking for something ‘viral’

SprintThere seems to be a misnomer out there, shared in client circles (and exacerbated by the media), that they can ask their agencies to create viral campaigns for them. Mediapost has just written an article about Sprint’s new viral campaign, on the day it launched. They must know something I don’t because to me, viral is a result, not a tactic. Calling something viral before it has launched is like picking the Superbowl winner in March (congratulations Redskins).

If you’d like to see Sprint’s new campaign, click here – it’s geared towards mobile users who are frustrated with their cell phone carrier. You can get Sprint to change you to their network, and then send your mobile carrier a goodbye song. Not exactly a new idea (and not likely to go viral).

So clients: let’s agree on this distinction. Viral is something you see a campaign do, not something you can request, like out-of-home or radio commercials. And if you’d like to see something go viral, you’re going to have to stick your neck out a little and do something edgy or really innovative. A milquetoast campaign like Sprint’s isn’t going to cut it.

And by the way, I get the irony of distributing the link to a supposed viral campaign I am critical of.

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How to erode brand trust – by Hyatt

firedI’m a fan of Hyatt Hotels. In fact one of my favorite hotels is the Hyatt Olive 8 in Seattle. As a customer I have always been pleased with their attentive service and care, which are strong pillars of their brand.

However, as a consumer, I was really disturbed to hear about Hyatt’s recent underhanded move to eliminate their housekeeper positions in Boston and replace them with a third party. I won’t go into details (click here for the story), but it hardly smacks of any care. And if any of it is true, how can they not think this erodes my trust in their brand?

In this day and age companies just can’t get away with acting out of brand character. You can’t tell consumers you’re one thing and then be completely opposite to your internal stakeholders. We’ll find out one way or another. And here’s the worst part. Due to social media proliferation this PR gaffe won’t be localized to the Boston area. It has the potential to affect Hyatt globally.

So what may have begun as a cost saving measure, has now become a costly crisis for Hyatt. And all because they didn’t think that their staff was a part of their brand.

Hyatt has responded to the negative press with a statement you can read here.

Google is reading your mail

gmail eyesScores of people use Gmail as their free web-based email provider, myself included. But I’m not sure how many people actually realize that Google is scanning your email content (not just subject lines) to serve up relevant ads in the form of Sponsored Links.

Go ahead and check it out. If you look down the right hand side of your emails and you’ll see ads pertaining to the content of your email.

How do you feel about that? Do you care?

For me, it’s ironic, because I use my work email for work-related communications only, but use a web-based email provider for personal communications (like, to complain about work), because I’m assuming it’s private.

But it isn’t. Someone is watching.

To make us feel better, Google says that no humans will read the content of your email in order to target such advertisements or related information. It’s all an automated process.

But isn’t Google in the information gathering business? And doesn’t Google become more valuable the more it learns? It may seem pretty benign now, but who’s to say a few years from now, every email you send won’t be dropped into a giant database all about you and your online activity, which helps Google know more about you, and therefore assist advertisers in targeting you more accurately.

Does it now make you think twice about sending that off-color joke to a friend, or that topless picture of the celeb-du-jour to your pals? Or do you care?

I wonder what it’s like to apply for a job at Google. Do they call references, or do they just pull your IP address and the Sponsored Link history for your Gmail account? If that’s the case, I think I’m going back to snail mail.

Anyone know where I can buy some stamps?

What ‘real man’ would you choose to front your Alcohol?

mad-men-2Advertising Age has just written an article detailing the new hyper-virile manner with which some spirits brands are now promoting themselves. Billed as the anti-Sex in the City era (in which the Cosmopolitan was the heralded beverage for women in a boom economy), this new phase could be dubbed the Mad Men era, where belts are being tightened in a poor economy, people stay home more and many alcohol pitchmen are emulating the behavior of the characters from the popular Emmy Award winning series. The commercials that I seem to see the most of feature “Sopranos” star Michael Imperioli for 1800 Tequila,

And of course, the Dos Equis commercials, starring the most interesting man in the world (Paula Forbes has a great blog post with all commercials here).

Ad Age’s point, I believe, is that life imitates art, and in unstable times we men are trying to emulate these real men from Mad Men. So, I guess my question is, if you had an alcohol brand to promote, which pitchman/character would you use? I have some suggestions below:

Mark Harmon – Jethro Gibbs (NCIS)
Hugh Laurie – Dr. Gregory House (HOUSE)
David Caruso – Lieutenant Horatio Caine (CSI MIAMI)
Matthew Fox – Jack Shephard (LOST)

For me, the runaway winner has to be Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in IRON MAN.

So, who would be your choice for the ideal front man?

3 not-so-simple ways to improve online display advertising

doubleclickIn its battle for display ad supremacy against the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft, Google has just launched its DoubleClick ad exchange, which industry experts are touting as the ‘best advertising base’.

According to a Business Week article, Google hopes to diversify its revenue because it still relies on 95% of its revenue from search ads. Neal Mohan, Google’s vice-president for product management was quoted as saying that “Display advertising is still not living up to its full potential.”

I don’t claim to be an online ad expert, but I get the sense that search ads do very well for certain reasons, and that to ‘live up to their potential’ and level the revenue playing field at Google, display ads will have to adopt the same model as search:

1. Let everyone play
Here’s my beef with ad networks. Generally speaking, they require a minimum spend in order to get your ads served. That can eliminate participation of a good portion of small businesses (under 10 employees) in the US, which make up about 67% of employer firms. So it’s not that small business doesn’t want to get online, it’s that it can be cost prohibitive. The reason why search ads work so well is that there is no minimum spend. If the new ad exchange works this way, then everyone can participate.

2. Eliminate the acronym ‘CPM’
Search ads work incredibly well because you only pay if someone clicks on your text ad. Cost Per Click (CPC) is also a great way to measure ad effectiveness. So why is it that so many display ad networks insist on keeping the CPM model around? It’s basically transferring old world thinking (see: Mass Media) and its metric of ‘impressions’ to Online Media. If Online Media is really so persuasive at converting consumers, then the payment model of display ads should be CPC (or PPC). An effective solve for these ad networks could be a blend of CPM and CPC, which would expire ads after a certain amount of impressions or clicks. This could eliminate types of fraud, or lousy display ads that no one wants to click on.

3. Let us tell you where our ads are going
Many ad networks won’t reveal which sites your display ads are appearing. This shroud of secrecy has to go. Letting advertisers choose where their ads go in terms of sites and geography would be a welcome change, and allow advertisers to use their knowledge of relevant interests/sites for their products. It also allows advertisers to ensure their company stays on brand. Of course for those advertisers who don’t know how to place their ads, offering a behavioral model for a higher CPC could be a suitable option.

Like I said, I’m no expert, but I believe that display ads can do much better by increasing their appeal to advertisers, large and small, if they adopt the previous steps. Display ads will never quite be as effective as search because of their push model, but any online media buyer would tell you that a blend of search and display is critical for campaign success. Here’s hoping this new ad exchange lives up to expectations. If it does, we’ll see Google grab even more of the online spend, and maybe even revolutionize online advertising in the process.

The power of Thank You

thank_you_card1I’ve been doing some thinking about this for some time, and was reminded of it recently after we had some people over for dinner party. Everyone thanked us when they left, but one couple sent us a nice card in the mail to thank us for the special evening. It wasn’t a big deal, but that little card did something quite incredible. After reading it, my girlfriend said “we should have them over again.” So, with one small, little gesture, these people moved to the top of our guest list for future dinners.

So, if that’s the case, why do so many companies do such a poor job of thanking customers? And I’m not talking about thanking them at the cash register. That’s just their version of our front door. I’m talking about thanking customers like our guests did. Such a simple gesture creates so much goodwill – because it is so unexpected.

I’ve worked on many a direct mail program, and they’re always geared towards getting the customer to spend. Even if the card starts with a thank you, it’s usually ends with a 20% off offer that attempts to entice the customer to spend more in the near future. That’s not a thank you. That’s a ‘now here’s something else you can do for us’.

How many times have you bought something and received a proper thank you from a company? I know it happens, because I have received one before. A very nice card just to say ‘Thanks for your business’. And do you know what I did? First, I told all of my friends. Then, a few months later, I went back and purchased from them again.

So if you want to boost revenue, increase word of mouth, and have a positive long-term forecast, it doesn’t take much effort, and you don’t even need to have a discount sale. Just treat us like you care, and say thank you. And I promise we’ll move you right to the top of our guest list.

How to blow off customers – by Kleenex®

kleenexI was doing some industry reading today and came across a Kleenex® campaign that isn’t necessarily about selling more tissues, but about protecting their brand trademark. The banner ad and subsequent microsite actually tell (or scold) us that when using the word Kleenex, we need to use the Copyright ® after it.

The copy reads:

You don’t need a Social Security number to get your identity stolen.

When you spend nearly a century building a name that people know and trust, the last thing you want is people calling any old tissue a Kleenex® Tissue. Simply put, ‘Kleenex’ is a brand name and should always be followed by an ® and the word ‘Tissue.’ Please help us keep our identity ours.

I’m a little confused by this campaign, and what’s more, I don’t really like being lectured to by a brand. I guess products with this kind of ubiquity need to be careful what they wish for. By being so top of mind, they risk having consumers call their competition by their name. And this is a bad thing? I don’t think it has hurt products like Band Aid, Xerox or Google. Maybe Kleenex should just focus on being the best tissue on the market and keep their legal team out of the marketing department.