October 2008

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Two days ago, I suggested Barack Obama’s infomercial was a mistake. Well, the people have spoken and I was wrong. Over 33 million viewers tuned in to CBS, NBC, Fox and cable to watch. The media cost to air the informercial was about 3 million dollars, which I find hard to believe since a 30-second Super Bowl spot goes for $2 million+ and delivers less than twice the viewers.

 

Here’s the big question: Were the 33 million+ viewers Obama voters, John McCain voters, or undecideds? In marketing, new incremental volume is always an important measure.  Loyal customers need care and feeding but new customers are a key growth metric.  If Barack’s investment reached only his loyal followers then it probably wasn’t a great idea. But if the audience was a cross section of the population, as I suspect it was, then it was. (Can’t you just see some pro-McCain people quickly changing the channel as their spouses walked in the room?) Mea culpa. Peace!

 

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Not too long ago a friend told me an acquaintance offered him 20 gigs of music for his iPod for free.  Music by the pound. What kind of music? Who knew?   Apparently it didn’t matter.

With the announcement of the Netflix-TiVo’s marketing partnership, are movies by the pound not far behind? Digital media is out there in the ether, as we all know, and can be had for free. Google’s deal with book publishersthat shares revenue with writers and publishing houses for books viewed or downloaded is another example of media potentially seeping into the ether for free.   As art and commercial art become available for free over the net, we will have a paradigm shift. The music business is in the dumper. TV and movies will be next, then comes publishing.

 

So what do we do? Let me think on it a bit…and get back to you.    

 

 

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Barack Obama’s staff’s decision to run a half-hour infomercial tonight on the 4 broadcast television stations is a mistake. It takes him from underdog to overdog. All the American’s who listen to Sarah Palin go on about how the media handles Obama with kid gloves will have another arrow in their quiver. Unfairly, they will feel the networks are subsidizing Obama and it will make them angry, steeling their resolve against him. 

 

The populace may be tired of political ads, but it is certainly familiar with them as a campaign tool.  A roadblock half-hour infomercial, on the other hand, is a new and heavy-handed tactic. I’m sure the film will be pretty, the choreography and prose wonderful and inspiring, but it feels like a bull rush, heavy-spend tactic inappropriate for these difficult economic times. 

 

How about Senator Obama come out and cancel the show and note in a press release that all the money is going into a fund to kick-start his health program? That’s what an underdog would do.  Peace!

 

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A quote from Andrew Ross Sorkin in today’s New York Times reads:

 

“To make a combined General Motors-Chrysler work – let alone flourish – the company would need to do everything that is impolitic. It would have to virtually break the U.A W., cut salaries and benefits, and lay off a lot of people, fast. Oh: and it would also have to make cars that people actually want to buy.”

 

The executive offices of all the Big 3 are filled with smarter men and women than me. MBAs up the wazoo, but not one these senior officers is a visionary. Yeah, they may show up at the Detroit Car Show with a newly designed fanny warmer or car that parks itself, but they missed the boat when it came to cars people wanted to buy – or would want to buy down the road.  Quarterly losses and market share shrinkage have been mounting for years. If you ask me, the only Big 3 property doing anything is Chevrolet. GM should plumb that group for ideas.

 

Were I the U.S. government, I’d wait until I heard some serious leadership coming from one of those offices in Detroit, backed by a real strategy, before I put them on the dole. Peace!

 

 

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Cablevision is one of America’s largest cable television companies.  Also a provider of broadband internet and phone service, it has made a lot of money for the Dolan family. Charles Dolan was instrumental in the founding of HBO and is quite the entrepreneurial stud.  The Dolan’s — Charles has a son, James — have a somewhat weird and spotty diversification history, but I must admit I admire their moxie.


One investment decision they’ve recently made, which is brilliant, is to make their service area wireless for all Optimum customers – for free. Cablevision operates on Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut and though the total footprint is not completely covered, they have a good start. It is currently the largest wireless network in the country.  


Cablevision has long been viewed negatively by consumers; I remember once pitching a cancer care awareness program to them through the North Shore-LIJ Health Care System to which they responded “How is this going to help us sell more product?”  Today, years later, they are sponsoring a cancer care program.  And today, they are being good local citizen by wiring (or is it wirelessing) our communities. The frown is beginning to break around here when you mention Cablevision.  Brilliant investment. Peace!

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Techie bloggers have learned “a thing” from old school media. As a reader and avid fan of tech blogs TechCrunch and Scobleizer (Robert Scoble), I’ve noticed with great admiration the recent redesign of their blogs. Easier to read, more pleasing to the eye, they bear an art directors touch. They feel a little more like a well designed print property than a tech property.  And that’s a good thing. 

 

My blog looks like dump, but it will get better. (And don’t even look at my simulcast blog at www.whatstheidea.com , it is laughable.) For me, for now, it’s about the words as I’m sure it was for Messrs. Scoble and Arrington. But these guys are kicking out some serious numbers so it was time for an upgrade.  It’s the way forward in blogging. Peace!

 
PS. Happy birthday Laura.

 

 

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Thomas Friedman wrote today how the next American administration should focus on E.T. (energy technology.) Economic incentives should be created for companies investing in energy R&D and manufacturing in the U.S.  Companies buying energy saving technologies should get tax credits. New limits should be established for utilities to create improved clean power generation.  And the president’s inaugural parade should be on foot and/or in cars getting 30 MPG to signal our commitment. E.T., according to Friedman, should be the new IT. Great points all.

 

But who is to lead the charge?  The Sharp Corporation is already betting on the future by investing in solar panel manufacturing technology in Japan. They are the largest manufacturer on the planet.  Sharp should announce a U.S. manufacturing arm and break ground right away. They should then spend a good deal of their ad budget promoting leadership in solar power. This leadership that will elevate Sharp from a low tier 1 TV manufacturer and create new luster for the brand. And it will do so in a meaningful and important category.  Leadership is needed in E.T. If not Sharp, who? How about GM or Ford?

 

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Pepsi and Arnell.

 

 

First off, Peter Arnell of the Arnell Group is one of the leading lights of branding today. He’s an artist, he has taste, he’s daring and though I’ve never seen him in action is probably larger than life in a room filled with marketing executives. The late Peter Kim of JWT and McCann was that way, minus the artist part.

 

But I will go on record as betting against his ability to turn around Pepsi. Nice, exciting new logos? Yes. Excited Pepsi drinkers, sucking down cases of bev, I think not. “Smiles” is an ownable branding idea (that’s what the new logos are all about,) but "fun smirks" would be better. Personally, I would give the smirk campaign to Crispin Porter Bogusky or TBWA/Chiat Day and see if they can reenergize the sweet seeking masses.  Crispin has learned some important lessons in selling (or not) soft drinks, so I think today they can nail Pepsi.  Pepsi needs energy, not merchandising tactics. It needs an idea that mobilizes drinkers. It needs a killer ad campaign first, then the merch and promos and digital games can follow.

 

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Warren Buffet wrote an Op-Ed piece in The Times today telling the world his intentions to buy only American stocks.  Not with Berkshire Hathaway money, but his own. His philosophy? “Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.”

 

As marketing planner I believe this is also good advice for businesses.  Businesses that are fearful, need to be a little greedy and heighten their market acuity. They need to be aggressive in their attempt to validate and understand strategy. As customers become more thrifty, their buying behaviors grow more pronounced. Important things rise to the top. Good marketers ask the tough questions and will find out where they are on the value chain. 
 

Smart marketers who invest in market research and heighten their customer intelligence in difficult economic times will prosper when things turn around. It’s imperative to know what drives your customers and your competitor’s customers when people are fearful. Now is your chance.   

 

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