Aug 11

Could American Airlines’ timing be any worse?

So, as millions of travelers, including yours truly, were stuck dealing with the incredibly long lines and delays prompted by yesterday’s foiled terrorist attacks, here comes American Airlines with distribution of an e-mail reminding its customers not to miss out on their sweepstakes promotion!

Could the marketing folks at American be any more clueless or insensitive to world events and peoples’ fears? And, if it wasn’t bad enough, American Airlines was one of the three U.S. carriers targeted.

So, who’s to blame? Was it some unknowing and unsuspecting Summer intern, or someone higher up the marketing ranks? Actually, it doesn’t matter because the buck should stop with the individual who heads Americans’ global marketing.

If I were in his or her shoes, I’d recall that note, postpone the sweepstakes and issue an apology to everyone who was on the receiving end.

It was tough enough to stand on long lines and divest oneself of every possible toiletry item. It was quite another to read a stupid and ill-timed email. Wake up American.

Hat tip to Fran Bainbridge for sending the American email.

Jun 27

How do you market to a new generation of virtual hermits?

A new survey out of London from global market research leader TNS (a Peppercom client) shows that teenage boys, aged 12 to 18, are spending record amounts of pocket money on computer games. In fact, fully one-third of the average British boy’s chump change now goes to purchasing the ‘Grand Theft Autos’ of the world (note: teenage girls in Britain have little interest in computer games, opting instead to shell out their moola on music).

While there are many disturbing elements to these findings, what troubles me is the parallel trend acompanying the money spend: teenage boys are spending inordinate amounts of time online, whether it’s playing video games, surfing MySpace or doing god knows what else. As a result, they’re literally not interacting with the world at large and gaining the requisite social skills they’ll need to succeed later in life.

Such a scenario is fine if the lads all aim to work in isolated cubes sorting through some kind of research. But, I can’t imagine any positive outcome for game-playing zealots in the business world of tomorrow. Futurist Watts Wacker has researched teens and pre-teens and says many of them count ‘virtual’ friends as among their closest buddies. Our youth are deeply engrossed in conversations with people they’ve most likely never met, and confiding their most intimate secrets to literal strangers. What would Dr. Phil say?

To me, it’s a mind-boggling trend that not only has significant implications for the day-to-day social interactions of the next quarter-century, but for marketers as well. How will traditonal approaches possibly resonate with the Grand Theft Auto crowd when they don’t send or receive information the way we do?

It seems to me the best answer will be to market via relationships built on trust. Reaching and having a dialogue with a future consumer’s ‘circle of influencers’ will become even more important than ever. Marketers will be forced to figure out totallly different ways to not only break through the clutter, but to connect with a guy who grew up choosing his friends and entertainment from in front of a keyboard. And, a guy who, sad to say, spent one-third of his discretionary income on video games. Yuck. Whatever happened to whiffle ball, stickball and bubble gum cards?"

Jun 21

You’re hired! Oops, sorry. Meant to say you’re fired!

Spencer Stuart’s brand new survey about the lifespan of the average chief marketing officer makes for sobering reading to say the least. According to the results, the average CMO lasts for only 23 months in general, and as little as 15 months in the tech and industrial sectors. Man, these poor bastards don’t have enough time to even arrange their wall posters before being shown the door.

CMOs surveyed in the annual Stuart audit said their Mayfly-like lifespan (by far the shortest of any C-suite title, btw) is due to their being caught in a perfect corporate storm: CEOs are placing extraordinary short-term pressure on them because of the Street’s quarter-to-quarter focus while, at the same time, very few CMOs have access to the CEO. Talk about a lose-lose proposition. CMOs can’t justify their existence because they don’t know what the CEOs strategy is in the first place!

In this week’s Advertising Age, Jeff Bell, global VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business added another reason for so many CMOs dropping like leaves: "The shorter tenure is in part a reflection of the change from failing traditional marketing approaches to less defined and more dynamic approaches. Clearly, the skill set of CMOs is changing from TV, TV and more TV to interactive media."

These findings and analysis come as no surprise to me. CMOs traditionally came from the mainstream advertising and marketing worlds. What we’re seeing is that group’s inability to stay ahead, if not keep pace, with the rapid fire changes in the marketing landscape caused by digital technology. As a result, they flame out in record time.

At the same time, all this turnover has to be a real bonanza for Spencer Stuart and their executive recruiting ilk. That said, Corporate America will rebel if Stuart et al. keep sending the usual suspects to interviews. Instead of dusting off some group head from JWT or hyping the advertising manager of some Unilver brand, Spencer Stuart would be wise to look to the ranks of corporate and agency public relations professionals. The best ones "get" the brave new world of citizen journalism and the "consumer as king." More important, they know how best to align a corporation’s traditional and digital offerings and, dare I say it, tie the overall marketing spend to sales performance.

Clearly, the current cast of characters isn’t making the grade. So let’s hope the executive recruiters abandon their old boys’ Rolodex and dial up some of PR’s best-and-brightest. My gut tells me if they do, our candidates will not only shine, they’ll stay in their CMO jobs long enough to unpack their files and hang a few paintings.

Mar 14

You gotta love minor league baseball PR stunts

Just when you thought Hardees took things a bit too far with the 107 grams of fat., 1410 calorie, 229 mg of cholesterol "Monster Thickburger" in late 2004, enter the new "undisputed champion of American gluttony – The Donut Burger" courtesy of the Gateway Grizzlies of minor league baseball’s Independent Frontier League. Burger_195

The centerpiece of the team’s "Baseball Best Burger" campaign sports a hamburger topped with sharp cheddar cheese and two slices of bacon — all between a "bun" made of a sliced Krispy Kreme Original Glazed donut.

Now I know there are probably a few health advocates out their that are about to go Morgan Spurlock and McSalad Shaker on the Grizzlies, but the fact of the matter is if you don’t like this idea you were probably not going to go to a minor league baseball game in the Midwest anytime soon.

The Grizzlies’ goals were to get Midwestern families and baseball fans to come out to their ballpark for a cost effective fan-friendly "experience" and give the rest of America something signature to remember them by. This program succeeds on both counts because the Grizzlies know their audience and they are now able to give fans a unique one of a kind memorable, baseball experience.

The Donut Burger is the Grizzlies’ answer to the Green Monster in Boston, Celebrity "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in Chicago, the Philly Phanatic in Philadelphia and a "Dodger Dog" in LA because you know their ballpark is the only place to go to enjoy the Donut Burger experience.

In the spirit of former Chicago White Sox marketing and PR genius, Bill "Disco Demolition Night" Veeck, fans now have a unique reason to go see the Gateway Grizzlies and they didn’t even have to sign a former All-Star, build a three story green wall, create a new mascot or break a record, unless of course fat intake per inning is now an official stat.

Hat tip to Charles Leone for this post.

Mar 09

Clearly, Coke isn’t it

At long last, health-conscious Americans are realizing that soft drinks are bogus and add nothing but calories to their lives. A report by Beverage Digest shows that, for the first time in 20 years, the number of cases of soda sold in the U.S. declined in 2005.Soda

According to reports, the average can of Coke or Pepsi contains 250 calories and 67 grams of sugar. Ugh. Who needs that? Obviously, soda will never go away. But, I’m hoping that we’ll start to see "sin" taxes placed on soda sales a la cigarettes since both are unhealthy (obviously, one can’t equate the empty calories in soda to the toxic, health-threatening ingredients of the average cigarette). That said, soda is a "big" part of the overall child obesity epidemic in America and around the world.

So, what do the Cokes and Pepsis do (Dew?) with declining sales staring them in the face? Probably exactly what their kin in tobacco have done: initiate consumer education programs aimed at young people that warn our kids about the risks associated with the consumption of soda. After all, why do we need soda? It would be the right thing to do and a smart defense for a totally defenseless product.

Schools have started to replace soda in their cafeterias and business should follow suit. I’m sure some public health group could spit out statistics proving the positive, bottom-line impact of a soda-free workplace. And just think of the new, trimmer waistlines we’d see as a result. Just thinking about it makes me want to reach for the nearest bottle of S. Pellegrino.

Jan 26

At Ford, quality may be job one, but smart communication sure isn’t

So, on the one hand the Ford Motor Company is laying off 30,000 employees. On the other, though, it continues to run television commercials featuring employees who grew up working on Ford cars and "…have Ford cars in their blood."

I sure hope some of the featured employees aren’t the ones who were handed pink slips the other day.Ford

Ford’s marketing misstep reeks of poor internal communications. Did the folks in human resources not communicate with their peers in communications, or vice versa. Or, is it simply a case of someone on high not thinking through the image implications of continuing the campaign during the downsizing. Either way, it’s embarrassing. As a communications "mechanic," I’d suggest Ford bring its internal processes into the shop for an alignment.

Hat tip to Jackie Kolek for her opinions about this.

Jan 20

And the winner of the annual NFL/Chick-Fil-A End Zone Entertainment Competition is Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers

I think the NFL is missing a huge marketing and sponsorship opportunity by not capitalizing on end zone dancing. The increasingly more creative and bizarre jigs being performed by touchdown-scoring wide receivers like Steve Smith, Santana Moss and the notorious T.O. never cease to amaze and delight me.1_1

So, why not take a page out of the NBA play book? They make a big deal out of the slam dunk spectacle and build a whole separate event to highlight it at All-Star time (and raise God knows how many extra sponsorship dollars in the process). MLB does the same thing with its home-run derby.

The NFL can trump its fellow leagues by taking the end zone competition to a whole new level. Schedule it at half-time of the Super Bowl. Bring in the top performers from each team and let them have at it. Pull together a judging committee that hold up score cards after each dance, moon walk, marriage proposal, phone call to an agent, impersonation of a waiter, etc. Judges should come from the entertainment world a la American Idol, since the wide receivers’ dance routines are the equal of anything we see on Broadway or the silver screen. Just imagine a panel of Paula Abdul, Dave Chappelle and Lindsey Lohan debating the creativity, athleticism and virtuosity of each receiver’s routine. Talk about priceless.

So, here’s a plea to the NFL: wake up and capitalize on what your players are providing you. Take it to the next level, find the right sponsors and judges, and I guarantee the sponsorship and advertising dollars will pour in. And the fans will love it. Besides, you need to replace those lost revenues after cancelling the $18 million Levitra contract.

Hey Steve, Santana and T.O., "are you guys ready to get down?

Dec 20

To blog or not to blog? That is the question.

Peppercom just released its first survey on corporate blogging, which offers insights from the marketing community on the benefits and risks for companies that are experimenting with this medium.

Although the vast majority of respondents were positive about the potential for corporate blogs as a communications channel, there was a considerable amount of concern about how companies should go about entering the blogosphere.

With the growing hype around blogging, marketing executives are trying hard to figure out how to step into the blogosphere without getting burned. And I don’t blame them. For many companies, the idea of creating an open dialogue with its customers’ is a scary proposition. What if they bash our products? What if we disclose something that comes back to haunt us?

These are all valid concerns, but I urge companies to take a step back and think about why they even want to start blogging in the first place. Too often companies dive into the blogosphere with an agenda, which is a bad move. You wouldn’t go to your high school reunion with a bullhorn and flyers talking about your company. Companies cannot assume they can jump in and exploit the blogosphere in the same way.

To be successful in this space, you need to be much more down-to-earth and transparent. First and foremost, corporations must slow down and listen to the ongoing conversation enabled by blogs. By simply listening to the debates, concerns, and praises, companies will be able to fine-tune their products and messaging. Second, companies can join the conversation as long as they engage their customers. What’s the point of blogging if you insist on keeping the walls up? Third, and probably most important, do not attempt to control the conversation with bullhorn marketing communications methods of old. Don’t treat your customer as a "target." Talk to them honestly and openly, because chances are, they probably know more about your products than you do.

Oct 31

Viva La Inteligencia!

By its very nature, this blog tosses brickbats and bouquets in unequal measure. In recent months, I have been storing up a warehouse full of the former for the manufacturers and marketers of "Che" Guevara T-shirts. In case you have missed it, many young people think that the face of this man gracing their fronts is somehow cool looking.Che

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In today’s post-Cold War era, the idea of violent Marxist revolution as means of freeing humanity from its shackles of oppression holds as much validity as the belief that the earth is flat. Even in his day, Ernesto Guevara could barely be complimented as a footnote to history. The Argentine medical doctor’s claim to fame is that he helped Fidel Castro in his revolution that destroyed Cuba. Along the way, they and their comrades jailed, tortured and slaughtered thousands of innocents, all in the name of the "people."

My revulsion at seeing this bloodthirsty nobody’s visage elevated to that of an icon is matched only by my anger at the manufacturer’s and marketer’s playing on the ignorance of the youth to whom they so disgustingly pander with this piece of schlock. What’s next: T-shirts sporting the faces of Hitler, Stalin or Mao?

Oct 24

Hitting Below the Belt

The crack marketing minds at McDonald’s have fumbled with their sponsorship of a new, CBS/NFL pre-game show segment called the "Pounder Index."

Each week, McDonald’s and the CBS pre-game crew of erstwhile NFL jocks rate the most vicious tackles/hits of the preceding Sunday from a video and audio standpoint. Each tackle/hit is assigned a "Richter-scale" like number based upon its viciousness and loudness. The hapless New York Jets and their wide receiver, Laverneus Coles, took top honors this past Sunday for a shot Coles received courtesy of a Buffalo Bills safety that registered a "whopping" 9.1 on the Pounder Index scale.Pounder1023051_1

One wonders how McDonald’s Pounder Index would have rated the hit that Jack Tatum laid on Darryl Stingley back in 1978, leaving Stingley permanently paralyzed? Would that have topped the Coles tally of 9.1? Or how about the time another Jet, Dennis Byrd, ran full speed and head-first into a teammate and broke his neck? Byrd eventually recovered, but never played another down. Would Byrd’s horrific collision have carried enough visual and acoustical drama to have made McDonald’s top Pounder Indexes of that long-ago week?

It seems to me the burger marketers can find better, more humane ways to reach the NFL’s Joe Six-Pack audience than spotlighting the ever-more horrific "shots" that NFL players lay on one another.

C’mon McDonald’s. Stop with this hitting below the belt. Pull the "Pounder Index" segment. We deserve a break today (and every Sunday).