Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ethical Implications for Marketing: Why Lying, Violence, and Sex Don't Work

When we think about marketing ethics, what do we think of? From my point of view, there are the glass-half-empty people who shout ‘oxymoron’, there are the optimists who believe that all advertising is helpful guidance, and there are the realists who think that it is a part of business, for better or worse. I’m going to take a look at a few areas of ethical concern for marketers, and how they can endeavor to win over the pessimists in each category.

Issues over truth and honesty

In his bestseller, “All Marketers are Liars,” Seth Godin makes the assertion that there are two ways to communicate: to rely on facts and what’s right and to tell a story that fits our worldview. In his opinion, the storytellers (read: marketers) win every time. According to Amazon’s description of the book, “Successful marketers don't talk about features or even benefits. Instead, they tell a story. A story we want to believe.”

The problem lies in the fact that lies are inevitably exposed, muddying the good name of the brand, product, or service. Some lies are more transparent than others. Godin’s blog exposes some of the more futile efforts of marketers to position a product, such as Red Lobster’s claim to be from Maine and American Spirit’s leading (not quite an outright claim, just not a denial of the assumptions) that all-natural tobacco is better for you than regular tobacco. The answer here, is just don’t lie or mislead – obviously, it looks bad. Red Lobster doesn’t have a single restaurant in Maine, and this isn’t difficult information to find. Red Lobster has plenty of other positive attributes for the marketing department to make valid claims to.

Issues with violence, sex and profanity

Everyone has heard that sex sells – and it really does for many companies. It attracts attention in ways that other methods simply cannot do. American Apparel has come under fire for its provocative advertising (among other things). In fact, it has an entire section of its Web Site dedicated to displaying its controversial advertisements. American Apparel’s advertising is famous for another reason: they use only non-models and they do not usually airbrush. Therefore, there is an air of reality in them that other ads do not have which is praised by some (for not creating the “perfect woman”) and criticized by others (for making them less of a fantasy and therefore more pornographic). Who is right? Roberta Clarke, branding expert and marketing professor at Boston University, states that the CEO “is intent on getting the awareness with the billboards, but with some people the perception is that this guy is engaging in pedophilia by virtue by having fairly young girls in pornographic positions. Yes there are freedoms, but there are also responsibilities. This seems irresponsible."

The FCC has specific rules for obscene, indecent, and profane material (yes, those are three separate categories). Obscene material is not protected under our First Amendment rights, indecent material is protected and therefore can only be prohibited in certain time slots, and profane material seems to be at the discretion of the Commission. Advertisers should follow these rules and regs, particularly if they are looking to air content that will be viewed by minor audiences. Some commercials that have been found to be too steamy for American audiences are here, here, and here (note: too steamy might mean that you should be 18 to click).

Issues with negative advertising

“To attack a rival is never good advertising. Don't point out others' faults. It is not permitted in the best mediums. It is never good policy. The selfish purpose is apparent. It looks unfair, not sporty.” Well said, Mr. Hopkins. Negative advertising is still apparent, though – people watch it for the same reason they watch intently as they drive by an ambulance.

Having just come off a record-breaking election, Americans are very familiar with negative advertising. Does it work for politicians? In a word, yes. Attack ads ask us to vote against someone rather than for someone, and it is a very convincing tactic. Sometimes, it is easier to make a decision based on what you don’t want. Does negative advertising work for companies? Not usually. Unlike politicians, companies hardly ever mention specific competition let alone run negative ads. Why is it different? A war of words would turn off consumers of both brands in the end; you don’t want to consume a product that is found to be undesirable, as the outcome would inevitably prove to be for both warring brands. Unless you are running for office, keep it positive and raise the brand up – don’t tear another one down.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why Outsource When You Can Crowdsource?

Two heads are better than one, right? If so, then crowdsourcing might be the ultimate solution. Crowdsourcing is utilizing the power of millions of humans' brainpower for one common goal. It is a concept that can be applied in many different ways, but it is increasingly being applied to marketing campaigns. It has proven to be a growing trend for businesses to access cheap labor while at the same time, involving consumers in a brand's message.

One of the most successful examples of crowdsourcing is iStockphoto.com. iStockphoto is an image database of amateur photography and graphic design that licenses the pieces for $1 or more. By using their images, small design firms increase their profit margin dramatically, (Howe, para. 7). Other examples of crowdsourcing include open source software such as the Linux operating system or the Wikipedia encyclopedia. It is a phenomenon that is growing in popularity and credibility.

What are some of the ways it has been applied to the marketing world? Mountain Dew decided to give the marketing & PR department a rest and started Dewmocracy – the journey to create the next Mountain Dew. Contestants uploaded their ideas of what the best type of event Mountain Dew should hold for its in-market launch of the Voltage. Ideas they got ranged from a Vegas launch to creating mythical Beverage Wars across the country.

One opportunist, Laurel Papworth, has taken it one step further by starting the world’s first crowdsourced ad agency, Twitter Agency. The Web Site states, “Any of the people contributing here are available for hire as Twitter experts.” It began as an experiment to win the $30 million Vodafone account up for grabs announced on October 1. Whether or not she succeeds in that goal, she likely has unearthed a great deal of marketing talent that can gain a lot of contract work.

What do you think - is crowdsourcing the way of the future or a cheap ploy by companies to take advantage of free ideas?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's All the Buzz About?

The concept of building buzz for a brand in marketing isn’t new. After all, when a marketer is trying to build buzz around a product or service, they are essentially trying to get people talking – word of mouth. Buzz can be good or bad. Red Bull essentially rose to the top this way, but Janet Jackson’s famous Super bowl performance also generated an enormous amount of buzz. The great thing about this route is that it is cheap and trusted more than any other type of marketing, no matter the nature of the message. Blogging is one tool that more and more marketers are utilizing.

Building buzz sounds easier than it is. As easy as it is for a consumer to pass on interesting tidbits about a company or product, it is just as easy for them to disregard it if it fails to catch their interest. You have to make it fun and/or interesting in order to keep people talking and writing about you. In addition, you have to follow up to maintain the interest in the demographic. Often marketers fail to do this and millions of marketing dollars are wasted. According to Saatchi marketing consultant Jon Ray, “A great way to remedy this is to build your product the best it can be, create a way to promote it that is newsworthy, couple that event with appropriate advertising and then continue to engage your consumer with branded content and relevant information on the web.”

It is important in the marketing environment today, to be innovative in order to create buzz. Some techniques that marketers use to get people talking include advertising, viral campaigns, guerilla marketing, public relations, crowdsourcing, blogging, and others. Blogging is an increasingly important tool for the Integrated Marketing Communication mix, as they are cheap and easy to maintain. Blogging has other benefits as well. Apparently, they are more “Googlelicious” than Web Sites and can offer just as much information. According to Patrick Galvin of Galvin Communications, professionals can benefit in three ways:

1. It shows existing clients/consumers as well as prospective parties added value
2. It keeps companies or professionals on the cutting edge of information
3. Blog posts rank higher than Web Site content therefore making them more visible

Remember: blogging is all about communicating. Buzz is about creating communication. By creating content that your audience is interested in and structuring it so that it flows like an interactive conversation, the buzz will come.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How TiVo Changed the World

Well, let’s not be dramatic, but DVRs do have marketers debating and scrambling for a replacement of the 30 second spot. While advertisers used to be assured that viewers would be stuck sitting through their commercials during their favorite show, DVR has re-introduced the fast-forward button into our lives. So what’s a marketer to do?

Most realize that this will lead to a change, large or small, in how advertisements will be done for television. A team of panelists on The Future of Television Advertising discussed possible solutions to the changing atmosphere. Some of these solutions often thrown around are to make better commercials so people will be engaged to watch them, to increase product placement, and to make television ads interactive. Tomorrows Trends introduces the idea of “ad words” where text is shown during commercials that are fast-forwarded. Most advertising professionals realize that television advertising will continue to be important, though many continue to suggest that it is quickly going the way of the radio spot.

TiVo CEO Tom Rogers does little to appease anxious advertisers: “There are going to be 50 or 60 million DVRs in homes over the next few years. The majority of television ads in those homes simply won’t be seen. It’s going to be incredibly painful for advertisers, for the whole television industry, if they don’t comprehend the urgency of that." So what’s a billion dollar industry to do?

Most solutions bring up that ever-present buzzword: interactive. TiVo has already begun aggressively incorporating embedding advertising throughout its navigation menus. As of July, TiVo teamed up with Amazon to make it possible to purchase related products while watching specific shows with their remote control. Although this could be a powerful new marketing tool, other DVR systems (which are the vast majority of the market) haven’t followed suit yet. Most industry analysts remain skeptical of the potential, but at this point, who can say exactly what direction it will take?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Online Advertising: Moving Forward or Coming Full Circle

What does the future hold for marketers? As technology forces the hand of marketers to adapt to an ever-changing climate, there are many ways that IMC professionals and advertisers approach the task at hand from innovating to repeating history.

After the dot.com bust up of 2000, internet ad revenue did a nose-dive as we are all aware. Marketers began to write-off the medium; but, is it really so different from "old" media? Advertisers are beginning to look at internet advertising much the same way as traditional advertising – just because users don't click on an ad does not mean there was no communication. Consumers can't click on a television spot or a print ad either. For a marketer, "using the word 'hits' . . . puts a scarlet letter on your head that you don't know what you're doing," (Taylor, para. 5). An Internet ad that isn't clicked-through still can bring about the same benefits as a print ad – brand awareness and message communication – even when the user does not visit the connecting Web Site.

One example of this 'old' train of thought comes from none other than Lord Saatchi himself. Lord Maurice Saatchi has received criticism for an op-Ed piece he wrote for the Financial Times stating that, "Human nature is not amenable to prediction based on the trends or tendencies prevailing at the time. It is amenable to startling creativity of the kind practiced by great artists, directors, writers, musicians, actors, who know how to touch a chord in humans everywhere," (para. 13). His basic premise is that Google provides little in the way to assist advertisers. Further, he supports his conclusion with the late Viscount Rothmere's assertion that research on consumers is unhelpful: "Getting someone else's newspaper is like getting into someone else's bath after they've just left it," (para. 9). Gross. This OpEd piece underscores the differences between the old train of thought and new ideas in marketing.

Bloggers are quick to point out the ridiculousness of this article. Of course Google's AdSense is a marketer's dream: targeting users, reducing waste, increasing efficacy and ROI. Google has more information on individual consumers than the IRS. So is it "out with the old" and in with the Google? Not so fast.

According to a piece in the New York Times, Google is turning to agencies for help in getting advertisers to use more extensive Google products such as click-to-play video, Google Earth mapping, and geographic finding of users. "We've been out there meeting with a lot of agencies and clients so they understand at a brand level, at a creative level, at a media-planning level, how they can use the palette we have," said Tim Armstrong, vice president for advertising sales at Google. Looks like Madison Ave. can take a deep breath.

(Taylor, Catherine P. "New Media as Old Media." Brandweek. 6/30/2003)

Social Network vs. E-mail Marketing

Social networking is one of the more effective methods of marketing to develop in recent years. By 2011, it is projected that this sector will hit $2.5 billion at an increase of 180%. When done effectively, it can be an effective tool for marketers to promote their companies. It is simple, cheap, and does not require a large time investment. It is not for all businesses, however, and some drawbacks include a perception that social network marketing is not professional and that you may not be able to adequately reach your target market through this method.

Email Marketing - it’s not sexy, but it is effective. Here are five reasons why according to E-Consultancy:

1. Email can help you achieve your business goals
2. Keeping customers in the loop = happy customers
3. It’s more cost effective anyway: offline direct marketing is more $$
4. Customer intelligence: it is highly targetable
5. Improved overall online marketing

Email marketing has more benefits overall according to a study by ExactTarget. An excerpt from the study states that, “18- to 34-year-olds claim they are more likely to be influenced to make purchases based on e-mail marketing messages and direct mail than marketing messages on social networks,” said Mike Bloxham, director, insight and research, Ball State University’s Center for Media Design. “It is too easy to assume that the media consumers choose for their own news, information and entertainment are, by default, the best media to use for marketing messages. This is a dangerous assumption to make in a time when consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their level of control over their media experiences.” This is attributed to the fact that most consumers believe that communication channels such as social networks, SMS, etc. are off-limits to marketers and private.