Friday, March 29, 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

They Know Me So Well

This is the letter that was waiting for me when I returned to Rochester to visit family this week.  It's from Bankers Conseco.  The letter is about 40 years too early and sent to an address I haven't lived at in more than five years.

The letter is a blind guess.  Unfortunately, marketers do it all the time but it's obviously not the best way to go about starting any potential relationship.  

Domino's Keeps Delivering The Wrong Recipe

I've wrote a ton about pizza pie conglomerate Domino's and the tectonic shift in strategy their attempting, moving from a lower-end brand to a high-end brand.  Please revisit those thoughts on Domino's brand strategy from January 2010, May 2011 and October 2011 if you feel so inclined. 

Interestingly, Domino's latest ad chases a "quality" position while at the same time running from its strongly-held position of speed, as it touts slower pizza making in the ad.

Regardless of the assumed reality of quality improvement at Domino's, in marketing, the perception is the reality.  I argue that consumers are right to be skeptical of a brand touting quality when this hasn't always delivered this in the past, the low price of $7.99 doesn't match their expectations of what to pay for quality pizza and the chain boasts tens of thousands of mostly homogenous stores.

Domino's should understand that quality is simply just not their greatest advantage.  

Please feel free to share your thoughts on Domino's pizza and its swing-for-the-fences pizza turnaround campaign?  As always, thanks for reading and sharing.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sponsorship Overload

During the NCAA Tournament, an announcer curiously introduces the halftime show by saying, "AT&T at the half is presented by AT&T."

I heard this and wondered began to wonder if AT&T is playing the wrong game.  Is this slight bizarre sentence a cue that the marketers are more concerned about the number of impressions they can cram into a program versus how to create the best possible impressions?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Imagining Different Advertising For Stella Artois

I really like the Stella Artois brand. I personally enjoy the drink and, as a marketer, I really admire how Stella imputes its premium brand on all parts of the experience.  For instance, a Stella is supposed to be served in a special chalice, which has become a strong symbol for the brand.  In fact, the chalice is such a strong symbol, that it's the focus of their current ad campaign.  In the ads, the signature chalice gets plenty of camera time while a complimenting narrator utters a single line; "if this much care goes into the chalice, imagine what goes into the beer."

Immediately, I wondered why Stella Artois was leaving anything to the viewers' imaginations.  Instead of explaining the care that goes into creating the chalice, Stella should explain to consumers the care that goes into creating the beer.  Then reinforce these advantages with stuff like special chalices and the proper technique used to cut the head off the beer.

Compare the Stella Artois ad with a couple Sam Adams commercials.  Here is a commercial that magnificently demonstrates the quality of their ingredients.  And here's another. And this ad provides specific examples of the how Sam Adams protects the product until its ready to drink.

In their ads, the Boston Beer Company left nothing to the viewers' imaginations.  Stella Artois should have done the same.

As always, thanks for reading.  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Bloomberg Dilemmas

The New York Times reported yesterday that New York City's influential mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is proposing further legislation to regulate the sale of cigarettes in the Big Apple.  The proposed bill would make it illegal for stores to display cigarettes in open view to the public, thus making New York the first city in the nation to require retailers to completely hide their tobacco products. The third term mayor also went a step further by proposing harsher penalties to retailers who avoid tobacco taxes by selling "smuggled cigarettes."  

According to Bloomberg, "such displays suggest that smoking is a normal activity, and they invite young people to experiment with tobacco."  His critics, who include James Calvin, President of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, say that “it’s patently absurd, can you think of any other retail business that is licensed to sell legal products that is required to hide them from the view of its customers? I can’t.”

Bloomberg has proven that he isn't afraid to take a seemingly controversial stand in the name of keeping New York healthy.  He has waged an active war against trans-fats, salt and sugar consumption, and smoking in the five boroughs.  In fact, his latest proposal comes just days after a judge nixed the Bloomberg's notorious ban on selling sugary soft drinks larger than sixteen ounces

While I believe that it's difficult to disagree with Bloomberg's ultimate goal of reducing the number of empty calories in diet of New Yorkers, I'd argue that it's rather easy to disagree Bloomberg's plan on achieving that goal.  Despite the wide array of consumer products already subject to government regulation, a list that includes everything from medicine to transportation to investments, what I find unsettling about Bloomberg's plan is that the fight is said to be against empty calories, while singling out the beverage category, even though empty calories is a common trait in many products consumed.  Why isn't the American ice cream, cookie and cupcake complex equally as responsible for the obesity in America as Coca-Cola seems to be?   

There is a good reason for this; however, it isn't what Bloomberg's law suggests that it is.  While the sugary soda ban takes aim at the size of the drinks people consume, the real secret formula in getting soda into every American belly is its wide availability.  The true brilliance of beverage marketers is the power of their distribution networks.  It's by design that no matter where you're reading this, you’re probably less than 200 footsteps from the nearest delicious Coke.  An expansive distribution of sugary drinks is the biggest aid in making them appear as something other than a treat or desert, which is closer to what they actually are.  Thus, it's hard to argue against their unhealthy contribution to American obesity.

Still, that doesn't make Bloomberg's soda ban a good law.  I truly wonder what effect the proposed soda legislation will have.  Will this piece of legislation actually reduce empty calorie intake or will it simply redistribute where they come from while inconveniencing convenience store owners and their customers?  I think it's a fair question to ask.

Interestingly, beer is a beverage that is also devoid of any nutritional value, yet brewers don't face the same type scrutiny in the obesity debate.  While it’s highly regulated, albeit for a different reason, why is they approach toward regulating each drink so different?  As opposed to tackling the size of the drink, regulating who can serve what and where, as is done with alcoholic beverages, actually gets to the heart of why these beverages pervade our society.  I believe doing so would more effectively reposition how people view sugary soft drinks and consequently curb their impact on society.

As for tobacco, I applaud Bloomberg for finding yet another creative way to regulate the sale of an already extremely regulated product.  But I wonder if the sale of tobacco in America isn't ripe for an overhaul.  Can a more equitable system be devised?   

What if cigarettes where only sold direct to the consumer, through authorized dealers online? Although interstate commerce laws would have to be adjusted, the advantages are sales could require a social security number that is automatically cross referenced with the credit card used to make the purchase.  This would add a major buffer between cigarettes and minors.  Additionally, the delayed gratification of receiving cigarettes via mail would dampen most impulsive desires to purchase cigarettes. Finally, purchases would easily be tracked to a known identity.  That information as to who is buying could be shared with health insurance providers and groups who offer quitting services.  In exchange for this regulated system, governments could reduce the sky-high sales taxes already placed on tobacco. 

As always, thanks for reading.  I'd love to hear your solutions, no matter how crazy, to the problems that Mayor Bloomberg is trying to solve.  Please share in the comments section of this blog.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Remember That It's Still Marketing

Earlier today, I came across this advertisement from an employment agency

Interestingly, the ad begins by saying "You will be wasting your time if you don't read the skills required for this post and update your resume accordingly."

If the ad's less-than-gracious introduction doesn't get you excited to work for this person (actually, unbelievably an agency published it, so it's their client) than the impossibly long block of text to shift through should definitely reel you in.  In fact, the crummy layout builds a small barrier to finding said required skills, basically implying that the candidate's time isn't as valuable as the agency.

Although the layout is awful, I find the tone of the copy most concerning because I know this employer isn't the only making this mistake.  If you have ever looked wasteland that is job postings on Craigslist, you know that a library of similarly abrasive posts from small independents could be aggregated in a matter of hours.

I'm certainly aware of the fact that jobs today are scarce; employers get flooded with applicants for a single job and thus the vetting process can be time consuming.  Nevertheless, for potential candidates who may know nothing else about your company, the qualifying process is a two-way street that begins with a job posting.  They too are judging the employer and a curt tone of voice makes an ugly first impression which should raise a red flag.

Obviously, recruiting the right people is the first step to building any successful organization.  Despite the fact that many organizations looking to fill their ranks with the best of the best don't even consider active candidates responding to ads, for those that do, this is no way to play catch up.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you would like, tweet me @alexvilleneve the poorly composed job listing you find with the #JerkBossInWaiting.            

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Embarrassing Brand Manners

A few months ago, in a post titled "The Complaint Department," I shared an aggravating personal customer service experience I had.  

Basically, after purchasing a gift for my father, I discovered that I purchased the wrong item.  I mistakenly purchased a different variety because the picture didn't match the product listing.  In fact, it still doesn't.  I didn't notice this because I arrived at the page through a Google search that correctly found the wrong picture.

When I politely emailed the store looking for help with my dilemma, they neglected to ever reply, ensuring that I'll never buy anything from this hometown foods site again.

Naturally, I forgot about this experience until I pulled one of their direct marketing pieces from my mailbox this week.

Personally, I think it's poor marketing to automatically send consumers junk because they made prior purchases.  It's simply one of the dumbest marketing practices and certainly comes off as such in this particular case.  Similarly, I can recall instances of receiving marketing messages from a company for the first time shortly after applying for a job.    

Despite being poor marketing and discourteous behavior, why does it feel like companies helping themselves to a consumer's attention is standard operating procedure. 

I believe the disconnect relates to maintaining an ideology that "reach" is paramount, as is the case when attention is purchased with advertising.   However, these names aren't purchased (or at least they shouldn't be), they're earned.  Therefore, it's time marketers start treating them as such because abusing earned attention has consequences far greater than forgotten noise.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Reading Between Kindle's Lines

If you haven't seen it, the latest advertisement for the Kindle eReader also offers Amazon's corporate stance on the issue of gay marriage.  While portraying the everyday scenario of a same-sex couple on the beach, Amazon specifically chooses to use the term husband, leaving no room for ambiguity to viewers their stance on the issue of gay marriage.   

I don't have any problem with Amazon offering its opinion on the gay marriage issue nor do I have a problem with what that opinion is.  However, the issue I take with this ad is that Amazon's commercial statement is truly an afterthought compared to the social one it makes.  While the Kindle is lightly positioned against the iPad as being easier to read, that fact is glossed over to get to the plot twist at the end. 

Kindle's unique advantage over the iPad is that it's made reading, not computing.  The Paperwhite, which is a great name, won't reflect light back into your eyes, even on the sunniest of beaches.   The ultimately advantage being that the Kindle won't strain your eyes like a iPad or traditional computer screen.  In addition, not much is made of Kindle's portability advantage compared to full-size tablets.  

Despite the use of a pure marketing medium (television ad), the Kindle's marketing position is buried under a cultural/political one.  Therefore, regardless of how valid its cause may be and the instant awareness it's likely to generate, I don't believe this particular ad is effective as it doesn't do enough to position itself against the iPad.

I'm interested in hearing your take on the effectiveness of Amazon's latest Kindle ad?  Please note that any attempts to simply spew hatred won't ever be published on this blog, so save your keystrokes.  As always, thanks for reading.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Refocusing Ronald

According to reports by Reuters, fast-food leader McDonald's is dropping the Fruit & Walnut Salad and the Chicken Selects items from their menu.  Additionally, it's currently debating the fate of the "Premium Angus" burger as well.

The shuffling of its menu comes as competitors Burger King and Wendy's have introduced similar offerings like coffee, smoothies and salads and crediting those new items with a major role in closing the gap. It's a move that's reportedly prompted by the expectation of slower sales and profit growth in the coming months, due to a lackluster consumer economic outlook.  However, it's fair to assume that if these items were top sellers, McDonald's wouldn't eliminate them.  And a recently deleted Facebook post by a McDonald's franchisee echoed such reasoning.    

It's a shrewd strategy by McDonald's to refocus on cheap.  Consider that it takes multiple "sometimes" customers who may order a premium salad to equal one regular customer who typically visits for a Big Mac.  That regular customer has always been going to McDonald's for a cheap, fast and easy meal.

It's becoming more difficult and unrealistic for McDonald's and the other "fast food" chains to compete on the higher end of the menu as a steady rise in quick-serve restaurants are claiming this for themselves.  Holding a stronger position on "cheap" should benefit McDonald's as they affirm the position to its regular customer base as well as catch a eaters who move down the market in sluggish economic conditions.

It will be interesting to see if Burger King and Wendy's will follow suit, as they have recently credited the expansion of their menus with gains against McDonald's.