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Making stuff up

November 27, 2008 Leave a comment

So there’s the right way to make stuff up in advertising, and the wrong way.

Many years ago, Certs dropped their “two, two, two mints in one” marketing campaign and began promoting the heck out of their special ingredient, Retsyn®. The ads strongly hinted that Retsyn was the special ingredient that freshened one’s breath much better than other mints could. And for children of the 70’s, Retsyn seemed to be scientific–and with Retsyn only available in Certs, it was definitely a competitive advantage.

However, Retsyn® is nothing more than a patented combination of partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, copper gluconate, and flavoring. It doesn’t do anything to freshen your breath. (Although the copper gluconate makes the green flecks in Certs.) So, while this was probably some diabolical scheme from a marketing weasel, it pushed many of the right buttons with the audience.

Unlike Bud Light, whose “The Difference Is Drinkability” campaign has to be one of the most ludicrous, insulting advertising efforts in memory. Not being able to own anything about low carbs or being less filling, Bud Light makes up a word that is so totally obvious in its madeuppedness that Noah Webster is spinning in his grave. Apparently, Anheuser-Busch got pissed off at Miller’s claim of “More Taste.”

“Dammit, Barbara,” the COO of A-B said to the CMO, “there is no freakin’ way Miller is going to have a more ludicrous advertising claim than we are! I want you to come up with an equally ridiculous concept, but then I want you to make up a word to describe it! Those freaks in Milwaukee are going to rue the day they thought they could outridiculous us!”

I hope most consumers can see right through the claim of “drinkability.” It’s a made-up word for a made-up concept that is meaningless and unmeasurable–but that’s not the problem. The problem is that it is so obvious in its attempt to mislead. Retsyn misled the consumer–but effectively.

The takeaway from all this, however, is that marketers need actual competitive advantages to market. Bud Light would probably get much farther with “America’s #1 Light Beer” than with the “drinkability” nonsense. And Certs had such success with its “two, two, two mints in one” campaign that 40 years later people are still parodying it.

Consumers are much better at seeing through BS than they were even five years ago. With every piece of information and trivia just a Google search away, advertisers and marketers are running a big risk with anything that smacks of dishonesty. Creating campaigns that are both catchy and authentic will always be the marketer’s biggest challenge, but now more than ever it is a job requirement.

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Why sex sells

November 25, 2008 Leave a comment

Frank Martin has a great blog, and recently posted 30 questions to marketers. I think a lot of marketers–particularly new marketers–need to think long and hard about these questions, even if Frank intended them to be rhetorical. The conventional wisdom is high on convention and low on wisdom.

The second one of Frank’s questions I’ll tackle is question #7: “Do men really think that beer will give them access to the beautiful women in the beer ads, or ones like them?”

One might think the answer is no. But really, the answer is irrelevant, because beer companies don’t need to promise access to those beautiful women; they only need to show those beautiful women. And this, really, is the evil genius of marketing.

Images of beautiful women make straight men impatient and make them willing to settle for less in monetary transactions. A 2006 study by researchers Bram Van den Bergh and Siegfried Dewitte at University of Leuven in Belgium found that the correlation is related to the man’s testosterone levels: the higher the testosterone, the lower the resolve after the images are presented. (The findings were duplicated in a related 2008 study.) So straight men, watching sporting events, where their levels of testosterone are elevated anyway, see a beer ad with pretty girls in skimpy outfits, and their need for immediate gratification grows. They make a beer run at halftime, and their impatience leads them to the big display with another ad–this one a huge cardboard display of another pretty girl in another skimpy outfit–and they make their purchase, and their need for instant gratification is sated.

It’s kind of interesting, and kind of sickening–especially if you’re a straight man who realizes you’ve been manipulated in this way. But the enormous beer companies aren’t stupid; I would bet that they had researchers who discovered this long before Bram Van den Bergh was a testosterone-fueled glint in his father’s eye.

The upside for marketers is to realize that yes, sex sells–but only, according to this research, to straight men for impulse-buy products. There’s a reason why enterprise software companies don’t market with sexual imagery: it’s because the purchase does not sate the instant gratification mechanism those images trigger. Once the trigger is over, the opportunity is gone. I once worked for a marketing agency that had a client that wanted to sell their enterprise-level network security appliances with sex–and they were horrified at the results.

There’s also nothing in the study to suggest that brand (or even the product) carries over from the viewing of the advertisement to the purchase of the product–although I’m sure the evil marketing geniuses at Anheuser-Busch probably have done some research on that, too. But it’s quite possible that if a man sees a Miller Lite ad with sexual imagery, then goes to the store to buy beer, he might just grab the Coors Light from the display with the sexual imagery instead.

I don’t market impulse-buy stuff, and I never have. I’d love to hear what experiences (if any) other people have had in their industries with selling their products and/or services with sexual imagery.

The cost of advertising

November 23, 2008 2 comments

Frank Martin has a great blog, and recently posted 30 questions to marketers. I think a lot of marketers–particularly new marketers–need to think long and hard about these questions, even if Frank intended them to be rhetorical. The conventional wisdom is high on convention and low on wisdom.

The first one I’ll tackle is question #11: “Why are advertising prices tied to cpm rather than increases to revenue? Don’t say it’s because revenue and advertising can’t be correlated.”

When I worked for a marketing agency, we would never dream of tying online ad prices to revenue that our clients closed. Probably the single biggest contributing factor is that the advertiser isn’t responsible for the competence of your salespeople. If each sale is 50% relationship and 50% lead generation, the advertiser would get dinged or rewarded based on how good the salesperson was.

In addition, there are a lot of online ads for enterprise software and other complex sales. For the complex sale, online advertisers cannot wait the 60, 90, or 180 days for your $500,000 sale to close. In addition, there are simply too many moving parts in the complex sale: e.g., if an ad delivers a click from a large state agency that gets 90% of the way through the sales process, then gets cut off due to a budget stalemate, that’s not the fault of the advertiser.

The flip side of CPM pricing, however, is delivering a batch of “hot leads” that are only hot because they’re a steaming pile of dung. Tying prices to CPM (cost per thousand page impressions) encourages online advertisers to attract a large number of people rather than attract a narrower, focused group of consumers who might actually buy that bazillion-dollar software package.

But this isn’t a concept that just happened with the advent of online ads. Pre-Web 2.0, internal marketing departments could be lured by the promise of quantity, not quality. Witness the vendor at a tradeshow who gives away an iPhone or a Wii, only to receive 2,000 business cards from people who just wanted the iPhone or Wii. Meanwhile, the real lead, the one who actually has the need and the budget, stops by the booth to see a demo and is turned off by the throngs of people filling out a lead sheet in order to enter the contest.

So the obvious answer is that online ads are priced by CPM because that’s really the only thing acceptable to the online advertiser’s business model.

For any company who hires an online advertiser, however, it is essential to think beyond the raw numbers to improve the quality of those thousand impressions. What type of user/consumer will see the ads? Will those people have the buying power to make a purchase? Run through the scenarios of the user experience in your head. How will you get those users from click-through to purchase? Is the line between start and finish clear? If not, fix the line or move the starting point.