September 2010

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Aol’s purchase of TechCrunch, the world’s most authoritative tech blog, is mad proof of its brand strategy to be the web’s content leader. Tim Armstrong, Aol’s chief, gets strategy. Claim: Be the content leader.  Proof: Ellen DeGeneres, TechCruch, local news with Patch. Using a TV metaphor, Mr. Armstrong is trying to create a lineup of talent not dissimilar to NBC’s “must see TV” on Thursday night in the 90s (or whenever that was). Buy and built the best visited sites on the web. 

The Web is nothing if it is not content.  TechCruch rocks its category not because Michael Arrington is a star, but because he is focused, a great journalist, and attracts stories like white on rice…before brown rice became popular. Aol and its similarly strategied competitor Yahoo realize the ad-supported model is viable, so it is looking to cherry pick the best talent on the web in every category and corral it. Hopefully, it will keep its hands off, as if has suggested, and let TechCrunch be TechCrunch.   

Patch.com

Patch.com – Aol’s localization play – is a neat idea but I’m not sure it fits this model.  A local reporter from Bumpus Mills, TN may not raise the editorial or content bar but we’ll see. Aol is off to the races – and finally it has a race track.  Yahoo? Not so much. Peace!

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It’s Advertising Week In NYC and Aol has launched a campaign (Product? Movement?) it hopes will make it more relevant.  I love their idea to have an idea. 

Aol’s declaimed strategy is to become a content leader on the web. Easily said. This campaign suggests they are serious.  Loosely called ProjectDevil, it is based on an insight that one-third of the web is advertising.  And poorly curated advertising at that.   A print ad in The New York Times today shows a side-by-side comparison of an old school website and a new school website.  Old is covered in ads and links, while new is elegant, clean and surprisingly magazine like.

If you go to the ProjectDevil site, which has been nicely cobbled together and targeted to an advertising audience, you get the sense that Aol is spending money, currying favor with smart digital people (a bit of a pander) and focusing on the presentation of content.  Compared to Yahoo, its closest competitor in the “content strategy’ strategy, this is a refreshing first down.

The “one third insight’ is a strong one.  The content strategy is a strong one.  If Aol gets better content and innovates with the delivery of that content, next year at Advertising Week you’ll see a very different company. Peace.

PS.  Last year I was walking around Advertising Week talking to Yahoo people who were oblivious to the awful Ogilvy work passing them by on the sides of buses.  Within weeks the account had moved to Goody Silverstein and Gareth Kay.  Yahoo is with a good shop, but their idea is still percolating.

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There is a radio campaign I’ve been hearing lately for Frank’s Hot Sauce – it’s actually red hot sauce, but my ears don’t hear it that way – and I absolutely love it.  There are snippets of video on the website which suggest the campaign may be on TV but I haven’t seen it.

You can’t miss the radio.  It’s typical actor product banter but punctuated by line “I put that bleep on everything.”  Whatever word you think is bleeped out is up to you, but you just know it starts the “shhh” and rhymes with “hit”.  The line is delivered by a granny-sounding actress and you can’t help but giggle (out loud). Even moms of the Southern Christian Right have to twinkle a wee bit.

The strategy is straight forward – use Frank’s on more dishes in more dayparts – but the humor is wonderfully disruptive.  It’s the best radio out there. For me, though, the jury’s still out on the TV. If the website videos are representative I think the TV will fall short.  The acting performance isn’t the same.  The surprise isn’t there.  And it almost demeans the radio. As a branding idea, I don’t see it translating in print either.  But enough darts, the radio is killer.

If you know the agency and the creative minds behind the work, please share.   I smell a Mercury Award. Peace!  

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T-Mobile has made a very smart marketing move by offering kids ride free on the family plan.  In our house, mom pays the phone bills for all family members so T-Mobile has done its homework when it comes to the whole decision maker buying experience.  

What’s smart about the promotion is that most plans now offer unlimited texting at a flat fee and since kids only text, this is win-back play of some marketing magnitude.  In print ads, T-Mobile compares their $59.99 plan for 5 lines to AT&T’s $59.99 Family Plan for 2 lines (mom and dad). 

T-Mobile, who still has the nicest brand color palette on the market, has locked up the phrase “The Family Network” with its logo in print advertising in NY, yet the website still publishes “Stick Together” as the corporate line. I smell a bit of desperation amidst this new kids-for-free tactic. No doubt, the new idea is working and kids do grow into loyal adults if well-treated, but flip-flopping brand strategy and taglines is scary stuff. 

I’d like for T-Mobile to stick around; it’s good for competition. And carving out a space as the “family” network is quite doable, but it will take more than one price promotion and some cutting and pasting. It’s going to take a massive plan. Peace it up (in the Middle East)!

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I don’ know about you but I can’t read on the train if there’s someone nearby shouting into their cell phone.  Hate to admit it but I can’t concentrate if there are people sitting on that same train yapping at a certain decibel level. How about trying to read at the beach next to someone with a loud radio? Am I alone?

Enter video on NYC subways. This is half a good idea.  As an ad person, I like the medium and its ability to provide meaning sponsored entertainment and information. As a reader I don’t like it because it’s going to be more than a nuisance. 15 years ago, everyone read on the subway.  Yesterday and this morning everyone had ear buds. Later today and tomorrow, with Kindles at $139 and other tablets ready to land, many will be reading again.  But with the new advertising and programming din on subway cars (now available on NYC’s Number 7 line) it may be difficult. And are other commuter trains be far behind?

 

Plastics.  That’s the answer. Soft, sanitized, polymers that fit into the ear. Once reserved to combat snoring and chatty jury rooms, ear plugs are a business with mad upside. You laugh.  Mark my words. Peace!

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Though I don’t completely understand what goes on behind the walls of the Dachis Group in Austin, TX, I’m a big fan of their consulting practice and pursuit of Social Business Design.  Having lived in the space contiguous to the one they’re trying to reinvent — creating more effective businesses through improved web 2.0 collaboration – I like how they have outlined the category and believe their Social Business Design terminology will stick. Like ERP.

They have money, are willing to spend it, and have a client list to die for.

Peter Kim, an early group member, wrote a post talking about the speed with which some companies are implementing social business change.  Much of the work his company does is with large enterprises but large enterprises are like battleships when it comes to new stuff.  I wonder if the Dachis Group might speed up adoption of its services by serving early adopter small and mid-size businesses – the first to rebound in an economic recovery.  Talk about the need to do more with less.  A small business practice at Dachis might also help inform the enterprise group and cover more of the business ecosystem.  A thought. Peace!

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My favorite modern marketer and lexicographer, Faris Yakob, uses the word “recombinant” a lot in his work and it’s a word I love.  His thesis is that everything is old and that what is new is just repackaging and/or a recombination of existing borrowed things.  

The new network television schedule launching tonight reminds me of Mr. Yakob’s theory.  More cop shows, medical shows, a sitcom or two depicting likeable middle ‘mericans.  But nothing really innovative.  The last innovation, if you don’t count cable using the word “dick” was probably reality TV, now accounting for 2 out of every 10 shows. Program-wise everything is so stale. Oh, we can text message and affect outcomes, but that’s a little 4th grade don’t you think?

We need some recombination here.  Mix a little Steven Colbert with 60 Minutes or NFL Pregame with America’s Most Wanted.  How about recombining House with Jersey Shore. Better yet, why doesn’t network TV go beyond recombination and just innovate completely.  The answer I trust lies somewhere at the nexus of consumer generated video, geolocation, gaming with a dash of celebrity.   The next big thing is out there and programmers with the vision to break the mold will reap the rewards. Come on networks, hire Mr. Yakob for a month.  Peace!

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A lot of people ask “Who is doing social media right?”  Tough question. What they’re really saying is “Who is using Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare effectively?”  

Social media is complicated and often convoluted. It is actually many media types: blogs, simple messages, texts, video, audio, pictures, email, etc. They are all social because they are shared.

So who is doing social well? Coach. They have a good mix of media and are using the right tools for the right part of the sales cycles: Awareness – Interest – Desire – Action.  Of course there’s some cross over, but the people pushing and pulling the buttons at Coach are leading the way and have a plan.

Motivation in Social Media

Readers know I advocate that brands using social have a motivation, kind of like actors in a movie. Each person at the controls of their social media channel needs to understand their role and stick to it. Understanding which social media type is used for which purpose is a start and Coach’s people are pretty close to delivering on that.  Twitter is for building real time, meaningful communal discourse.  Facebook is for selling so long as it’s not too smarmy or heavy handed. YouTube is where Coach creates desire and loyalty, though this is one area still under development.  Coach also gets it’s brand motivations: “fashion”, “NYC-culture” and “lifestyle” which are all clean and discreet.  They just need to continue to live and breathe the motivations and innovate with them. Get the motivations right and the media delivery will follow.

Good job Coach! Peace.

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Advertising generics in this case does not mean store brands or value brands, it refers to the selling words we use in advertising and sales.  Quality. Service. Tailored to your needs. Savings.  You’ve heard these words a million times in selling. They are the flah, flah, flah of selling.  Key words, if you will, that tell consumers you have no real message. Today, if you are selling quality, you are not selling.

If you want to study selling go out and do some cold calling. Or telemarketing. (No don’t. You may find your way to my door.)  Advertising is a little like cold calling.  But at least many who create ads understand the notion of engagement, product benefit, value demonstration and simplicity. 

The best advertising and cold selling does not use generics.  It uses meaningful selling ploys —  to be figured out on a case by case basis. It’s an art.

In sales the pop technique for the past 10 years has been “solution selling.” Don’t sell the features – ask, listen, find the pain points and create the perception that your product can heal.  Solutions selling has spawned a generation of listeners.  “Hi, I know you are very busy but tell me about your company.”  Nuh, uh.  No thanks.  Busy. Buh bue. 

Stay away from generics. Don’t sell education, sell Princeton. Don’t sell medicine, sell your branded scrip. Listen to yourself selling, experience your ads.  If you wouldn’t buy from you who would? Peace!

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Research In Motion needs a name change.  Don’t fight the people.  Change the name to Blackberry.  

Next issue, the company needs to go on offense; it’s been playing Dee too long. Readers will know how I felt about “Love” as the branding idea for its bazillion dollar ad campaign.  Not good.

RIM will announce quarterly results today and they are not expected to be pretty.  The worldwide smart phone market share leader, RIM is in the sights of Google’s fast growing Android operating system. And design-wise Apple iPhones have captured the imagination of the masses. So where does that leave RIM?  In a storm? Getting torched? Kind of where AOL was 8 years ago.  Or Yahoo was 3 years ago.  A leader treading water in a pool that is leaking. Leaking into a much bigger surrounding pool. RIM needs to see the future and go there. Right now it leads in business email. It leads in qwerty interface. It leads in web access, but these three things have diluted (another water metaphor) its brand idea. Hence love. 

Come on Blackberry. Fight back. Peace!

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