Apr 20

There has to be a smarter marketing spend than this

Nationwide Financial Services and a start-up airline called Skybus have announced a first-ever ‘co-branded airplane.’ Gee whiz. What a breakthrough concept.

The Airbus 319 will display the Nationwide logo and its long-running tagline ‘Nationwide Is On Your Skybus_3 Side’ on the fuselage as it trucks around various Midwest destinations.

Nationwide’s Mike Switzer says the branding will allow Skybus to charge ‘outrageously low prices.’ Oh, ok, I get it. Give me a minute while I switch my insurance policy to Nationwide.

The very thought that someone will be influenced on a purchase as important as life insurance just because the plane they ride in has a logo on it is absurd.

It’s also another great example of a marketer missing the key ingredient of connecting with consumers in our information overloaded society: understanding their pain and offering a solution.

And, speaking of pain, is there a more overt symbol of an object that continually causes pain than a plane?

Just wait until the first big snow storm causes massive delays and the Nationwide-branded Skybus is idling on some godforsaken airport tarmac hour-after-hour. I guarantee some sweaty, irate passenger will stand up and shout, ‘Hey Nationwide! If you’re on our side, get us out of this friggin’ plane!’

Jan 17

And another one bites the dust

The firing of Kerri Martin, Volkswagen’s Director of Brand Innovation (aka CMO) after less than two years at the helm comes as no real surprise. If memory serves, the average chief marketing officer only lasts an average of 23 months, which seems like the blink of an eye when compared to the average CEO tenure of 54 months. Yourefired_1 

Most CMOs are in an untenable position: because of Wall Street’s relentless pressure on the chief executive to satisfy shareholders, the CMO’s impact on sales is always being scrutinized by the harried CEO. There is no real time for the CMO to measure attitudes, conduct deep competitive analyses or test a couple of different approaches. Nor is there any leeway to learn from mistakes (which reminds me of the time we were hired by a mega Fortune 500 corporation and told by the number two communications person that we had ‘one and only one chance to fail.’

Needless to say, such stress doesn’t produce the most creative thinking). Anyway, hot shot CMOs such as Martin are brought in like the hired guns of the Old West to turn things around. Their sole job is to shoot the bad guys and drive sales. In her previous job, Martin had done just that when, along with uber hot ad agency Crispin Porter Bogusky, she introduced the Mini to the U.S. The campaign became legendary in marketing circles and Martin was lured to VW, where she immediately fired the incumbent agency, Arnold, and brought in Crispin. Now, advertising pundits are waiting for the other shoe to fall at VW and to see if Crispin ends up in the same ditch as their client. In situations like this everyone’s image takes a hit. The high-flying Martin and her bizarro campaigns for VW (i.e. "Unpimp my ride") didn’t drive sales. Crispin’s Superman-like invincibility that saw them featured on the cover of BusinessWeek has taken a hit and VW management looks like it spins agencies around faster than a Beetle on black ice.

As long as the Street keeps squeezing CEOs and the corner office keeps pressuring CMOs to work overnight miracles, we’ll continue to see Mayfly-like lifespans from the Kerri Martin types. The only saving grace is the occasional enlightened CEO who understands the need for a long-term marketing strategy. Here’s hoping Ms. Martin finds such an anomaly in her next position.

Nov 17

OK, I admit it, I like the titanium card’s ‘plunk’ factor

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting feature (subscription required) about the latest craze in credit cards: cool colors, unique partnerships/charitable tie-ins and, in the case of the American Express titanium card, the so-called ‘plunk’ factor.

As a titanium card holder, I know of what they speak. According to the article, the average creditBlack_card  card tips the scales at a measly 0.17 ounce. Hah! The mighty titanium card weighs in at a massive 0.53 ounce. And, says, Amex execs, that added heft is what creates the plunk factor.

It’s true. That card is a big momma. And when waiters, bartenders or hotel clerks see and feel the card for the first time, they do a definite double take. Some even emit a "wow…" as well.

Plunk factor and viral buzz have to be the ultimate holy grail for a card company. Sadly, I can’t say that I’m part of Amex’s titanium card word of mouth army because, frankly, while I dig the card, I’m also a little embarrassed by it. I mean, it’s like having a Sherman tank in your wallet. You pull that baby out and slap it down on a table, and, boom, it’s like a 3 megaton bomb has exploded.

In the ‘me too’ world of credit card marketing, I’m surprised Visa or Mastercard haven’t supersized one of their own cards and trumped the titanium with, say, a 0.65 ‘mother of all cards’ card. I know I would. And, hey, for a strategic partnership, the ‘mother’ card company could team up with chiropractors, who would obviously be needed to treat the lower back pain caused by the card.

Oct 24

A ‘day-in-the-life’ blog could make for a unique and fascinating marketing and recruiting tool

England’s National Trust recently declared Tuesday, October 17th as its "one day in history" day and invited Britons across the Realm to log onto History Matters.

Their assignment: to write a brief post reflecting the ways in which history affected them on that549403  particular day in British history. So, if they walked past a historic site and were so moved, they would record the experience. If they spotted a Royal personage or matinee idol, they could report on that encounter as well. As long as it had something to do with "history," all posts were welcomed.

The National Trust’s goal is to capture and preserve for posterity a perfectly normal "day-in-the-life" of their historic land. The exercise was inspired by a similar undertaking in 1937 (I wonder how many Brits used blackberries back then to record their experiences?). And, the blog posts will be permanently housed in the British Library.

I love all things historic and salute our Allies for this wickedly cool idea. But, it also got me thinking.

Organizations of all types are always trying to figure out new ways to differentiate themselves from the competition while attracting and retaining the very best talent.

Imagine how cool it would be to provide prospective clients and employees with an honest, unvarnished look at a "day-in-the-life" of the organization? (Obviously, it would have to be an unvarnished, unedited blog to have any credibility with readers).

A typical "day-in-the-life" blog from Peppercom might include posts by our Office Manager Lee Stechmann, warning the guys that they needed to take better care of the men’s room. It might also include a blog from Receptionist Kelly Walton, asking who had ordered the turkey and rye sandwich that had just been deposited on her desk. We’d also be likely to see a note from Debbie Spalding, our CFO, who would once again be warning employees they’d have no computer access if she didn’t receive their timesheets pronto. And, of course, there’d have to be a highly-spirited back-and-forth dialogue between my partner, Ed and I about the virtues of our respective alma maters.

I think a periodic day-in-the-life blog would be a smart and strategic addition to any organization’s website, marketing and human resources program. Now, watch me suggest it at the next management meeting and see it get shot down for some perfectly logical reason I’m not thinking of.

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.