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?

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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.

Why it’s better to be with a virgin

virign logoFirst, my apologies to all you filthy-minded folks out there who are mistakingly reading this article.

My second apology is to Virgin America for not flying you sooner.

I rarely have good things to say about businesses from a service standpoint. Frankly, I think most companies are in business despite themselves, especially airlines. Which is why I had to write an article about my experience with Virgin America over Labor Day, and why, for the life of me, I can’t understand why other airlines simply don’t get it.

virgin check inRight from the moment we checked in with Virgin America we felt like we were in for an atypical experience. The check in counter was, for the most part, free from the clutter of bewildered humans wondering what to do next (automated check in, old school check in, etc.). In fact, it was relatively empty of customers altogether, which might say something about Virgin’s processing ability.

Anyhow, after a one-minute wait we were greeted at the counter by a smiling woman who welcomed us to Virgin and asked us about our destination. I have to admit we probably looked a little strange to her after staring, open-mouthed at her for about 10 seconds trying to process the fact that she was actually smiling. “Maybe she just got engaged,” whispered my girlfriend. When we got to our gate we realized that other Virgin employees had adopted this strange facial quirk as well.

virgin_planeOur experience into the atypical continued when we got on board. The interior of the cabin was bathed in a pink and purple glow, giving the entire aircraft the feel of a hip, boutique hotel. It’s a very cool effect if you’ve never been aboard before, and from the look of it, seems pretty easy to do. You replace white bulbs with pink and purple ones.

We were actually able to watch a bit of a movie on our personal screens before the plane took off, giving us something to occupy our time while waiting for the aircraft to board. And when we got airborne, we could resume watching our movie where we paused it.

And here’s the real kicker – it seems that Virgin is the first airline that isn’t just talking about WiFi, but actually offering it.

But here’s the real interesting thing about our experience with Virgin. We didn’t really know about Virgin through marketing or advertising before we booked our trip with them. Everything we knew about Virgin was through other people who have flown them before.

So it seems that instead of spending heaps of money on advertising, sponsorships and marketing, like their competitors do, Virgin America is spending money on making your travel experience better than the competition, and then letting you spread the good word to others.

Like I am doing.

And to me, this methodology emphasizes the Virgin brand, which is ‘forward thinking’. Don’t trust a commercial or ad to tell you about the benefits of an airline, trust your neighbor, or colleague, or friend, or social media site instead.

So to other airlines out there, stop talking to us about your differences (which are minimal, at best) and start doing something different to make us want to choose you above your competitors. Believe me, it’s not always about price when you can offer us a priceless experience.

Why is this the Golden Age of Twitter?

goldbirdFor those 50% of you who are “Just trying this Twitter thing out” (#1 most common tweet) before you abandon the tool forever, I just wanted to share with you why it’s the best time to keep at it with Twitter:

Because no one really knows what they’re doing, especially corporations.

Twitter is still a relatively new site, and hasn’t been properly monetized. So this is the best time to really enjoy it as a social media tool.

I thought I’d explain my rationale through an experience I had recently. I was thinking about taking my girlfriend to Portland, but didn’t know much about the city. So I went onto my Twitter account and tweeted: “Anyone know any good hotels in Portland?”

I didn’t get any immediate replies, but after a while a few people, as well as a few hotels, wrote me back and told me about some good places to stay in the area. Some of the hotels even offered me a Twitter discount. I tweeted back a few people and hotels to ask about restaurants/entertainment as well, and got some good responses from both. In fact I got good enough advice from these people on Twitter that I made a reservation.

Not bad, huh? Now here’s why that won’t exist a few months/years from now:

Soon, many companies will use automated software (like the impersonal automated direct reply messages you get when you start following some people), so that when you type in anything related to their business, like ‘Hotel’, ‘Car’, or even ‘Dog Food’, you ‘ll receive a slew of automated messages from them, begging you to frequent their business. Translation: TWITTER SPAM (or is it: TWAM?).

Today, when most businesses are reaching out to you through Twitter, it’s usually be a person who is genuinely trying to help you out. Sure, they still want your business, but they’re willing to put in the time and effort to cultivate you as a customer to make a sale, instead of letting the robotic software do all the talking/offering for them. Because the fact of the matter is that we (humans/consumers) are complex creatures and are generally motivated by things other than price. Sometimes we need to have our hands held during the wooing process.

And finally, because Twitter hasn’t been overrun by corporations just yet (you ain’t seen nothin’ yet), people still view it as a tool to communicate with one another. As soon as we’re all inundated with SPAM messages, we’ll turn off it and move on to the next thing.

And for those of you who disagree, just log into your old Second Life account and see how those cool company storefronts really ameliorated the social media experience, if you can still remember your password.