May 2007

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Facebook yesterday made a big announcement about opening up its social network (of college students) to better compete with MySpace. What Facebook has done will cut into MySpace’s market share by providing a level of functionality unavailable there — today. MySpace is not going to sit still, however.  In fact, I learned yesterday that some music artists on MySpace are selling music through partners. Quietly.  
 
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has made some smart near-term competitive decisions but he’s also opened up Pandora’s Box. His franchise is college kids and those who want to be college kids. High school kids want to be college kids. Post grads want to be college kids. Hell, I want to be a college kid. Mr. Zuckerberg owned this social networking franchise but has decided to give it away in favor of providing unbridled technology and functionality to everyone. He is now selling a platform, not a college way of life.
 
Facebook will steal MySpace market share. It will grow. Then it will slow down. And then it will grow again because it will improve its mobile package. But then it will slowdown as the competitive field grows and Facebook loses its meaning to franchise users. Some smart entrepreneur will have gone to school on Facebook and provide a better social computing environment for Facebook’s core user. 
 

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Here’s an experiment. Please go to today’s New York Times (May 24) and read the dense, full page “Ask” ad on its search technology. It was written for about sixty people. It is for the Mensa- smart with inside references to the “Fields Medal” and “Hermann Mudgett” and sprays hoity language and formula’s that will curl your hair. That said, there is some wonderful writing here as well, e.g., “To search effectively in these circumstances, you’d have to don some serious math goggles and take a look at the big picture.”

For the sixty people in the target, here’s the essence of the story (the algorithm): “For each query, and index G of Web pages is found. For each page p, you associate a non-negative authority weight a(p) and a non-negative authory weight h(p). This will lead you to the rather obvious conclusion that when p points to lots of pages with big a values, it should get a big h (inverse weighted popularity). And when p is pointed to by lots of pages with big h values, it should get a big a value (weighted popularity.)” I’ll stop here, but the explanation goes on.

So here’s the test. Will this ad work? Will sixty people — who I’m guessing will really, really like and, more importantly, understand this ad — begin to use Ask as their search engine? In spite of its rather populist name? And will their viral power set Ask off on an upward trajectory? (My bet is yes.)

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Side-by-side comparison ads, if done well, are still a powerful form of communication. The old Rolling Stone “perception-reality” campaign comes to mind. In today’s Wall Street Journal is another example worth mentioning. It’s a watch ad by a company called A. Lange & Sohne. On the left side of the half page horizontal is a very impressive black and white picture of a Lange Double Split (perfectly named) wrist watch. On the right, a picture of the innards. Okay, the manufacture movement. Okay, the “symphony of horological artistry.”
 
The picture of the inside of the watch looks like a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
 
Upon reading the copy you realize this watch is one of man’s true feats of engineering. A point hammered home by the fact that I have no clue what a rattrapante is, and I’m still interested. The rattrapante, two actually, is the ad’s subject. (I think it means stop watch hand, but don’t quote me.)
 
In a society that will spend $2,000 for a sport jacket made of (tah-dah) cloth, this simple ad is going to ring up some serious sales. For a product that is a throwback to times of great craftsmanship, this ad is a throwback as well. Just perfect.  
 

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For as long as I’ve know them, Orsun Munn and Peter Rabot of Munn Rabot www.munnrabot.com have had a nice hand with their advertising. Always elegantly designed, often driven by a strong idea, these guys get it.
 
It’s an old advertising maxim that pictures of dogs and babies generate readership. One of Munn Rabot’s biggest clients, New York Presbyterian, uses two cute little white doggies as the focal point of a current print ad next to the headline “Amazing Things Are Happening Here.” The copy points out that NYP is using dogs therapeutically to help lower blood pressure and relieve depression, which is not really big news, but it goes on to offer that “dogs have even displayed an ability to provide early cancer detection through scent.”   That is news. That’s amazing. That’s an ad.
 
I often go on about how great copywriters and great planners find the brilliant kernel of information that can create a truly winning selling message. Whoever found this kernel earned his or her paycheck.
 

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Cisco System’s advertising campaign is very well produced. In fact, the production is so good it hides the fact that the idea is weak. The implied strategy of Cisco’s “human network” effort is to showcase all the good that happens over the internet and take credit for it. As the Internet infrastructure market leader, Cisco has decided to put a human face on the Internet and reap its benefit. It’s there way of showing Cisco is not a “cold technology” company and that applications drive technology.
 
The problem with glorifying humans, their actions, ideas, and deeds in your advertising is that you don’t differentiate the product. You celebrate it but don’t differentiate it. Certainly this builds awareness, familiarity, and a degree of loyalty, but the real kernels of differentiation that bind consumers to you are lost.  It doesn’t pass the “Why do you like Cisco so much?” test. Were a new hardware vendor to come along with a faster switch, many of Cisco’s fans would be happy to listen.  This campaign is the equivalent of the old AT&T “reach out and touch someone” campaign, which was great monopoly advertising. 
 
The human network is an idea. And it plays well in the media.  But it is not a branding idea.  
 

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Art

What’s my art?  I think it’s creating and recognizing powerful selling ideas. I borrow the term “selling idea” from a planning and strategy hero of mine Peter Kim, now deceased. In Peter’s world a selling idea was an ad strategy but on a macro level it could also be branding idea, the overarching organizing principle for a brand’s marketing and communications. 
 
My blog is not really my art but an extension. A PR friend, Shelley Spector, once  described my blog saying “You are  the Andy Rooney of marketing.” Images of McNasty eyebrows aside, I guess she’s right. I’m sort of cranky and don’t suffer foolish marketing well. Good bloggers try to be more then commentators teaching through inference.  They highlight rules and exceptions and provide advice for practitioners. Good bloggers need to encourage, be positive, and set an example.  
 
Seth Godin does a good job with this — translating his art into a blog. He’s instructive, thoughtful and insightful. I promise to better represent my art in my blog. It’s going to be tough though.   

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If I offer up these three words frozen dairy dessert, what image does it conger up? “Frozen” I get. “Dairy” I get. “Dessert” I get.  But together these three words suggest ice milk. Not ice cheese, there’s no such thing. And not ice cream, because if it was ice cream they would call it ice cream. I’m not sure what it is because the context is fuzzy.
 
Now, if I put a picture of an Edy’s quart container in front of you, with a picture of a heaping bowl of ice cream on the carton and cookie dough chocolate chips all over the place, what do you think of? Ice Cream! But “Edy’s Loaded” is not ice cream, it’s Frozen Dairy Dessert. Low fat ice cream, I presume.
 
Who decided to call it frozen dairy dessert?  The product manager? The government? (Can’t call it ice cream if it has no cream in it.) Lawyers? Who knows?
 
New product marketing is all about context.  If you have good context, then you needn’t spend lots of time educating the public while you are selling. In the case of Edy’s Loaded, the picture provides the context. The stuff looks great and I know what it is, no matter what you call it. Edy’s wouldn’t want to do a radio ad on this product, not and call it “Frozen Dairy Dessert.”
 

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ROI is the pop marketing term of the 21st century. People who spend all time talking about ROI aren’t getting any.  ROI is s euphemism for “Is our marketing working?” If you have to ask the question, it’s not working. When that’s the case the ROI jockeys break out the analytics and the metrics and set upon calibrating tactics. What was the ROI on our email campaign? What is the ROI on paper brochures vs. PDFs?   What’s the cost per impression on Heavy.com vs. Crave.com? 
 
The ROI craze has caused marketing fragmentation to the degree that practitioners can’t find their way out of the tactical maze. Marketing is still about the big idea. If it’s a good idea, it can be translated into any media.  Into any tactic. If it’s a bad idea, people start to talk ROI. 
 
Here’s some advice, if you are in a meeting and hear the acronym ROI more than once in the first minute, feign sickness and run. Look for a strategy meeting, it’s probably upstairs or in one of the corner offices.
 

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The original Nielsen rating machine was a man. Many men, in fact. They sat at home after work and on weekends with their wives and families and watched consumer consumption behavior. They discussed and probed likes and dislikes in media, products and messages. They went to the office and shared these observations in meetings, whereupon groups of professionals came up with hypotheses about behavior, preference and selling schema. These men worked at ad agencies — and when women joined the workforce in great numbers, the machine really took off.
 
These men and women came from many cities across the country, and periodically met at national functions so they could exchange regional views about consumer behavior and media consumption.
 
Over the past few decades we’ve ceded the old machine to the Nielsen audience meter and other such devices. Today we have set-top boxes and supermarket scanners to tell us if people are watching TV shows and buying our products. But the technology still has a hard time tracking when people are watching commercials, or why they are buying Crest instead of Aquafresh, so we employ anthropologists to do fieldwork. Think of them as ad nannies who tag along as part of the family.
 
If nannies are surrogate parents, then anthropologists are surrogate ad professionals as they were back in “the day.” The day when we were smart enough to keep our eyes and ears open and observe the behavior of consumer consumption. 

Eyes and ears still make the best ads and build the best brands.

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I went on a bit recently about the new Audi TV spot and its lack of an idea. After reading the new Audi “launch” print ad, I can confirm that there is, indeed, an idea in the new Goodby Berlin and Partners advertising. “Truth in Engineering.”  And if your care to spend a few minutes, you can find hints of the idea in the ad in today’s Wall Street Journal
 
I say hints, but maybe I should say clues. You see, the two page contains copy that is so pasted together, in such a haphazard method, that the “true” true engineering story is left untold. The agency and client try to tell the whole story in a long copy format, and unfortunately tell none.  
 
There are probably five great ads in this one average ad. Real engineering stories are hinted at, but they are buried and glossed over.  Proof of an idea, demonstrations of an idea, are what makes compelling selling stories, not recitation of lists.  The writer needed to do more research and develop each engineering truth, not topline it.  Mercedes actually had a great fractional campaign on this strategy – articulating the little engineering feats that made a Mercedes a Mercedes — but those ads, too, were under-researched and scantily written. Finding the “idea” in marketing and advertising is hard. But delivering on the idea is where brands are built.
 

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