POSitive reinforcement

Everyone loves a good TVC. They’re sexy, undeniably powerful and able to take consumers from zero to love in as little as 30 seconds. And let’s face it, agencies love them too because they mean big bucks, as well as items for the trophy cabinet.

Radio, too, can be a winner. The idea of an intimate relationship with your audience, broad reach and a lower cost than TV have made it another favourite over the years.

Newspapers, outdoor, glossy magazines… more pretty stuff, bright colours, lots of eyes.

And then there’s point-of-sale, the shy cousin. It’s not the glamourous one parading its wares around on the dancefloor for all to see; instead it just quietly sidles up to the bar, shoots a look at its target, and says ‘Come on, how ‘bout it?’

It amazes me how many brands are willing to invest serious dollars in mass media and then fail to follow-up with strong point-of-sale. By definition, that’s the place where people are actually forking out their hard-earned – why not hit them with the message one more time? How many times have you yourself stood in a store and thought ‘now which brand did I see/hear that ad for the other day?’ You examine the products before you, and, without any triggers, you’re unable to recall so you make your decision based on whatever other criteria you have available. The effect of the advertising message which originally caught your interest is lost.

To create advertising messages memorable enough to generate recall generally requires a combination of fantastic content and intensive reach. By contrast, creating recognition is much easier – a stimulus at point-of-sale can be all that is needed to take the consumer’s memory back to your last message. A little spend directed out of the media budget and into POS may be far more effective in generating sales.

Certainly, there are political issues that arise in dealing with POS displays in retail environments. There are also more pragmatic considerations such as who will be responsible for the installation and monitoring, if required. However, simple solutions – such as campaign-specific on-pack stickers – can be a very effective and low cost way to bring your advertising messages back to mind.

We can agree that the big picture messages are cool. But when you want to sell something and not just advertise it (I know there are other purposes to advertising) then it’s worth talking to your market when they’re actually about to buy something. Sure, there are some categories where this won’t apply, but most would agree that POS is an underutilised tool which can be used to great benefit by most brands.

So when your agency’s done selling you their amazingly creative TVC or outdoor concept, just ask them how they intend to integrate POS into the campaign – if your question is met with blank look or a line of bumbling BS, you may want to start looking elsewhere.

Who thinks their a copywriter?

When people are sick, they go to a doctor; when their car is in need of repair, they go to a mechanic; when the tap’s leaking, they call a plumber. But when they need copy written… heck, they just write it themselves.

In some areas, people are quick to recognise the value of professional services. Jobs requiring a certain amount of technical expertise – such as those above – fall into that category. Unfortunately, however, there is another category: it is ‘the jobs that people can do themselves but probably shouldn’t’. Copywriting is one of them. I may be inherently biased, but I think you’ll concede my point.

The problem is that as a society, we are essentially all literate – everyone learns how to read and write at school. This means that when something needs to be written for commercial purposes, everyone would appear qualified for the job. But consider this cute little example of a guy who’s just opened a café near my office: great fit-out (kudos to the tradies); great logo (thanks graphic designers); great food (well done, chefs)… but one wonders why he wrote the menus himself when he offers eggs benedict with ‘holiday’s sauce’. I’m fairly certain he’s not being clever and trying to conjure up memories of lazy breakfasts on windswept beaches. And no, I can’t tell you why there’s an apostrophe in there. Helpfully, it was written the same way twice under two different menu items, so we can be sure it wasn’t a careless one-off mistake either.

Generally speaking, of course, I don’t think Mr Café Owner is really in need of anyone’s copywriting services. But it’s not just the little guys that are the offenders here. Even the biggest players are guilty from time to time. A prominent Sydney billboard for Virgin Blue several years ago claimed ‘Your on your way’. How on earth did this get through the various agency people and all the in-house sign-offs? (Please don’t hesitate to email me if you’re having trouble spotting the error – note the obvious hint).

Clearly not all agencies are up to the task – just this afternoon I threw out a nice-looking pitch piece from a competitor agency with several errors on the cover letter page alone. One of the services they offered was copywriting. Sorry lads, that’s a FAIL. (Incidentally, any errors on this post are the responsibility of the editor…)

Anyway, I’m not about to tell you that I’m the only one who can do my job, nor am I going to suggest that you need to employ a copywriter for every single thing you write. All I want to do is suggest that we wordsmiths have our place with your designers when it comes to producing slick, professional communications, and we’re often underrated. Poorly-written ads, brochures, or websites reflect poorly on brands, even if the graphics are eye-candy.

So unless you’re the type to perform your own surgery, service your own car, and fix your own taps, perhaps it’s time to apply the same wisdom to your copywriting and entrust it to a professional. It may cost a little more, but modern economies were built on specialisation of labour for a reason.

Its not what you know…

For some reason, I’m kicking off another blog with another favourite saying from a parent. This time, it’s from my father: ‘It’s not what, but who you know’. Yes, it’s a truism you’ve probably all heard plenty of times as well, whether in relation to scoring a job, swinging some sort of deal, or just getting a proverbial foot in the door. Though more applicable in some cultures than others, it’s fairly universal too.

But if you’re in marketing, there’s one person whose perspective you must familiarise yourself with intimately to move both yourself and your organisation ahead. It’s not Kotler, Ries, Drucker or Porter (Wikipedia links included for a quick review of the greats). And as much as I’d like to tell you it’s Wilson, it’s not.

The person you truly need to understand is, of course, your customer. It’s somewhat of a cliché, and yet I challenge you that you probably don’t understand your customer nearly as well as what you think… at least, not anymore.

In fact, one of my partners and I spent 45 minutes yesterday in an enthusiastic discussion about exactly what it takes to know your customer in the 21st century. Specifically, can we still apply all the consumer behaviour knowledge gained in the field over the last hundred years, or have the rules changed as completely as some would have us believe? The answer, we came to agree, lies somewhere between the two. Underlying human characteristics havent changed and likely never will, so much of the old stuff remains valid. However, peoples perceptions, expectations, and behaviours have changed rapidly in line with changes in their environment, so many of the rules have indeed changed.

The key difference for todays marketer, then, is the evolving environment: to understand your customer, you need to understand the new world in which they live and interact. The part where this gets difficult is where you look for trusted names (like those listed above) to provide a solid framework to steer you through the new landscape… there simply arent any. By nature of the very environment itself, the theory is fragmented and sometimes plain contradictory, much of it is supposition rather than research, and it’s so new that good case studies are hard to come by. Also, much of the material comes from self-proclaimed experts. That’s the beauty of online publishing: no matter who you are, you have a platform to share your ideas with the world, irrespective of whether or not they’re of any actual merit. At least in the print days, we had editors to screen them for us. (In some online cases we still do, thanks Kate!)

What is the solution to understanding it all, then? My advice is simple: jump in. Participate. If you don’t have a Facebook account, start one. If you’ve read about Twitter in all sorts of other media but don’t even know what an actual tweet looks like, sign up. Heck, be a leader and get on what I’m predicting to be the new craze: Posterous. If you consider yourself too old to start now, consider that 60% of Twitter users are over the age of 35. Sure, understanding the mechanical aspects of these platforms won’t make you an instant social media expert, but at least it will demystify them for you. If nothing else, you won’t be so easily verballed into things by your agency (who may or may not understand any more about it than you do at this early stage).

If you’re still asking if it’s really necessary to engage in social media yourself before you can be a part of creating it for others, let’s return to the earlier discussion I had with my partner. He drew the humorous analogy of a criminal defence lawyer defending a client charged with murder: most lawyers in that position, he observed, have never had to defend themselves of the same crime. I’m willing to concede the point – but I’d argue that if they had, they’d probably do a much better job.

So what are you waiting for? You’ve obviously read one blog (thank you), so skip on off to a few more, attend a conference, or listen to a webinar. Who knows? You may even get hooked.

The new Ps –? Passion and Philanthropy

Hands up all who think the world is a fine and dandy place where everything is as it should be?

Thank you, Mickey Mouse, I expected no less from you. For the rest of us, however much the eternal optimist we may be, we realise that all is not as it should be.

We find ourselves confronted with an increasing number of worthy causes demanding our attention. But what if there was a way that to save the world that makes as much sense to our capitalist (professional) natures as it does to our altruistic ones?

It begins with an understanding of the changing nature of people’s expectations and what this means for brands.

Research points to the fact that during difficult times, people search for brands that provide them with meaning and a sense of hope rather than those that simply discount or focus on minimising the negatives. There’s an oft-quoted phenomenon arising from the cosmetics industry known as ‘the lipstick factor’– the simple notion that during recessions (and one might assume other periods of distress), people want to feel better about themselves, and will look for cheap and easy ways to do so. One result is a spike in lipstick sales.

So the question I have for everyone out there in marketingland is this: if people are currently looking for ways to feel better, what are you doing to make that connection between feeling better and engaging with your brand? I’m not talking about going the extra mile in customer service, or espousing the benefits of using or owning your product. These things now fall into the category of being hygiene factors (those things which don’t add anything by being present, but will lead to negative outcomes if they are absent, an idea first proposed by Herzberg).

No, consumers these days want far more from you. They don’t just want to know what your product does, how much it costs, or where to find it; they want to know what you stand for. The fact is that in difficult climates, most companies forget this last point and focus on the other three. But what if there was an opportunity being missed?

I’m hereby introducing two new Ps to the marketing vernacular: Passion and Philanthropy. While these two Ps are certainly not mutually exclusive, which of these two you emphasise will largely depend on the nature of your product and the industry in which you operate.

I believe David Gillespie so beautifully presented the case for passion in his piece ‘The Greatest of These’ (last month’s print issue of Marketing) that I’ll say little more on it; for those of you who didn’t catch it, David argued that love (or Passion) is what sets brands like Apple or Nike apart from their competitors. It’s clear and undeniable. However, they’re selling exciting products in an exciting industry. So what if you’re selling a less-than-exciting product like most FMCG brands? It’s ok, here is a safe place to admit it – your product may well be as boring as the proverbial batsh*t. How to proceed when Passion is a little harder to come by?

Cue Philanthropy. I won’t for a moment suggest that possessing Passion diminishes the need for Philanthropy; rather, I’m just proposing that Philanthropy can generate Passion and sentiment where they otherwise wouldn’t exist. Take washing powder for instance – ever bought into emotionally? Me neither. But what if, every time there was a disaster (think hurricane, earthquake, flood), you knew there was a team of people and vans operated by a washing powder company that would show up and take care of the inevitable loads of filthy clothes just to help out? With a capacity of up to 300 loads per day, that’s exactly what Tide’s ‘Loads of Hope’ program in the US does. Suddenly, your tediously boring product (despite the years of trying to get us excited about ‘whiter whites’, it ain’t working) creates emotional buy-in with consumers. It’s not trivial or tacky, it’s just a brand saying ‘hey, we’re going to help out by doing what comes naturally to us.’ And before you write it off as a cheap publicity stunt, you should know that they have a team of thirty vans dedicated to the task. That’s right, it’s actually a part of their branding strategy, not just a one-off knee-jerk reaction to what’s grabbing the headlines this week.

The other, often simpler alternative, is to leverage the philanthropic creds of an existing organisation. Where your product lacks passion or emotion, there are plenty of worthy causes who’d be happy to lend you some of theirs. In exchange for your support, they’ll give you logos, sponsorship opportunities, and bragging rights that can turn your brand from a household commodity into part of a bigger force for social revolution. Its a win for your brand and a win for humankind.

Times are a-changing, and this is just the beginning. You’ve all heard the story of someone who knew someone who had to have a university degree to get a job as a receptionist because there are so many qualified people out there companies are just expecting more and more from people. Well, take it from me: corporations and brands are about to get their comeuppance. The days are coming when consumers will ask you how you’re saving the world before they’ll even consider buying your loaf of bread or can of beans. Its already begun with the green revolution and its only going to grow from there.

My advice is to start thinking about what you’re going to say – and it had better involve at least one of the two new Ps.

Eds note: For more on the Lipstick Factor – watch out for the July issue of Marketing magazine, where Kate Kendall goes behind the scenes of the LOréal Group to get some answers.

Product placement in excess

With the next wave of blockbusters about to be released courtesy of the US summer holiday season, we’re sure to see more glorious examples of ‘branded entertainment’. An unusual moment got me thinking about this the other day.

Ever stumble upon a new fashion, song, or trend as a youngster only to be met with a surprised look from your parents who claimed ‘we had that 20 years ago’? Well, imagine my surprise when an atrocious example of product placement jumped out of INXS’s Live Baby Live! being played by our resident art director the other day. In what is otherwise a masterpiece of 90s rock footage, the drummer skilfully maintains the beat one-handed while taking a swig of beer from a bottle held in his other hand (awesome skill, many points), before placing it back down beside him and very noticeably reorienting it so as to make the label squarely face the camera (pathetic, automatic loss of points). Now it probably wasn’t ill-conceived – we know musicians and drinking are as synonymous a concept as vomiting and carrots – but it was very poorly executed, which is why it stood out. Most importantly though, I was surprised, given its 1991 vintage.*

While the idea of celebrities endorsing brands in a more direct sense is by no means a new one, the notion of product placement in film has really only come to the fore relatively recently. This can be evidenced by the fact that every time a new blockbuster is released, all my non-marketing friends think I’ll be interested in having a conversation about ‘how bad that product placement stuff is getting’.

However, a little research shows that product placement traces its history back almost as far as cinema and television themselves. Better yet, it appears that Jules Verne’s epic Around the World in Eighty Days writing contained product placements as transport and shipping companies lobbied to be included. Apparently, that was just the beginning of a long line of obvious and not-so-obvious examples. Perhaps ET’s ‘Reese’s Pieces’ scene was the first to set the bar for product placement so low that Michael Bay (The Island, Transformers) could repeatedly trip over it some 20 years later.

I guess the difference that has made it a talking point is that in the last 10 years it has gone too far. Certainly the best evidence of this (and my personal favourite, which doesn’t make it onto that list) is I Am Sam. The PP in this movie was so unashamed it would be comical if it were not so deplorable. Here was a film that contained such a tear-jerking performance by Sean Penn, combined with such a nauseating level of advertising, that I found myself for the first time wanting to both cry and throw up simultaneously.

Where will it go to from here? The problem is that movie budgets are blowing out, and PP is one easy way to both gain funding and simultaneously extend promotion of the film via co-operative marketing ventures. This would lead me to otherwise expect to see a marked increase in it over the coming years, except that we’re currently living in a climate where the marketing budget is ‘under review’ (that’s a euphemism for being decimated). The main problem with branded entertainment (that’s a euphemism for product placement – it makes you sound more educated) is that it is just that, a branding tool, so we may see it stagnate for a while. Of particular favour at the moment are advertising and sales tools that deliver a strong call to action and easily trackable results, so I say gone will be the multi-million dollar branding exercises like GM’s $US3m investment in Transformers (although, in their particular case, this may be because they currently can’t afford to replenish their office toilet paper supply, let alone fund that sort of expenditure). Yes, they’re in the second instalment of Transformers, but that was all set up pre-GFC.

Perhaps as a result of falling budgets, we’ll see the quality of movie effects decline to the stage where they’re all equivalent to the pre-release unfinished version of X-Men Origins: Wolverine which was circulated in pirate form over the internet recently. Then, as things recover, the level of product placement will become so bad that even good souls like myself will begin to consider that they’re entitled to pirate it because the ratio of ads to content outstrips free-to-air TV.

Lastly, there is one more option: agencies and marketing professionals can draw their own line on the sort of gratuitous, irrelevant, or otherwise unwelcome product placement behaviour that treats the audience like idiots. They can confine themselves to ‘natural fit’ placements before consumers vote with their feet against offending studios and brands. Or wait – if the placements are that subtle and we can’t tell, should we be more concerned about how subversive it’s become?

Wow, I must be tired. Excuse me for a moment as I nick off to grab a Red Bull – just what I need to clear my head before I consider the other side to this argument.

* Perhaps due in some part to the fact that prior to the new millennium I probably displayed more interest in my pushbike and whether or not I was gaining any more facial hair than I did in analysing branding exercises.