Archive for January, 2010

MLB, not McGwire, should get most of the blame for the steroid era

January 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Today, a not-so-shocking confession came out that Mark McGwire used steroids off and on throughout his career. He confessed that he used steroids in 1998, when he hit 70 home runs, which shattering Roger Maris’ decades-old record.

Pundits, sportswriters, and columnists throughout the country have been discussing this confession. Some say it was time for McGwire to come clean; others that McGwire started the “Steroid Era.” But I haven’t seen any writer actually discuss the circumstances around it.

1994 was the year that Major League Baseball decided that the rich owners and the rich players weren’t rich enough, so they decided to ruin baseball for everyone. The work stoppage started on August 12, 1994, and forced the cancellation of the remainder of the 1994 season and the postseason. MLB was the first sport to lose an entire postseason due to a labor dispute. Afterwards, people were angry. Fans in Cincinnati paid for an airplane to tow a sign reading “Owners & Players: To hell with all of you!” Attendance and TV ratings fell dramatically. Some teams, like the Montreal Expos, never recovered.

Then came Mark McGwire.

In 1998, McGwire started hitting home runs. And hitting more home runs. Then a little known player on the Chicago Cubs, Sammy Sosa, started hitting home runs too. Soon they were both on pace to beat Maris’s record. And soon, they whole country was following the home run race, and forgetting that they had sworn on a stack of bibles never to attend another MLB game again. When McGwire smacked number 62, he circled the basepaths, then hugged Roger Maris’s family in the stands. TV shows cut away to the scene. America loved baseball again. All was forgiven.

A few years later, we begin to suspect that that year might be tainted. Soon, confessions of steroid use–and names of other users–come to light. At first, the confessors are laughed at; soon, however, their stories are found to hold water. But America doesn’t get angry. Some of us don’t want to believe that the players were juiced. Some of us tried to justify it, saying that the players are simply entertainers, and the steroid-fueled entertainment bring in the big bucks. But enough people were angry about it that Barry Bonds eclipsing Hank Aaron’s career record of 755 home runs was not celebrated like McGwire’s record; indeed, many people booed Bonds during his travels. But the fans kept coming, people kept their TVs on the game, and the revenues kept pouring in.

McGwire may have been the first, but he still saved baseball, and baseball owes him–not just for those 70 home runs, but for being a sacrificial lamb. Did MLB know the McGwire/Sosa roided-up race would be the start of an era marked by cheating and deception?

Did MLB care?

Categories: Customer behavior

Advertising above the fray

January 6, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the biggest problems with advertising today is that there is so much of it. There are so many print ads that everyone ignores them. There are so many banner ads that everyone blocks them. There are so many TV commercials that everyone fast-forwards through them.

But today, January 6, Google rose above the loud, graphics-driven advertising fray. Google advertised their new phone, the NexusOne, on the Google home page, with a single line of text and a really tiny picture of the phone.

300 million page views, $0The NexusOne has received its own share of press in the last few weeks, with some people saying it’s going to be the biggest story of the Consumer Electronics Show (even though Google won’t be at the show). But the line of advertising–which essentially cost Google nothing–has also been written about on media sites and on, um, marketing blogs.

Google gets about 450 million page views a day, and for its very minimal investment, Google has put the name of its phone in front of over 100 million people. In one day. (Plus, marketing geeks like me are writing articles about it.)

When a company like Google can reach 100 million people in their target audience in a place people don’t expect to see an ad, that is much more effective than a traditional ad. Marketing above the fray was the source of an interesting book by Mark Hughes called “Buzzmarketing: Get People To Talk About Your Stuff” When your product gets discussed in the media, that’s good. When your ads get discussed in the media, that’s great. And when the medium of advertising gets discussed in the media, people start talking about your “stuff” in ways that make your brand noticed.

That’s part of the reason that Google is trading above 600.

The money comes from GM, the beneficiary is Lexus

January 2, 2010 3 comments

Here’s a picture of a billboard advertising the new Buick Lacrosse, which sets Lexus in its sights.

Something else for Lexus to relentlessly pursue.This ad in on a billboard on my way to work and my kids’ school, so I see it approximately a jillion times a month. I have a HUUUGE problem with this ad on several levels.

1) It looks like a Lexus ad. People are driving past this ad and seeing it out of the corner of their eyes. I didn’t realize–until I was a passenger stuck in traffic in front of this billboard–that this was an ad for a Buick Lacrosse, not a Lexus. I had passed it at least 30 or 40 times. The design is tragically flawed: the word “Lexus” is placed prominently above the car’s photo. The car’s name, “Buick Lacrosse,” is at the bottom right, which is the last place the eye travels–and usually doesn’t get there when the billboard is zipping by at 65 miles per hour. The name placement is especially problematic because it’s so easy to be covered up by nearby signs and foliage. GM spent millions on a campaign that looks like a Lexus ad–and reinforces the Lexus message.

2) It requires the viewer to work too hard to get the point. First, one must have knowledge of Lexus’ marketing campaign. Unless you know that Lexus’ tagline is “the relentless pursuit of perfection,” the ad makes no sense. Secondly, one must fill in all the blanks: Lexus relentlessly pursues perfection; the “something” referred to in the ad copy is the Buick Lacrosse; therefore, the Buick Lacrosse is perfection, and Lexus is relentlessly pursuing it because Lexus wants to be as good as the Buick Lacrosse. Whew.

No one is going to work that hard driving by a billboard.

Not only that, but the viewer must think about Lexus’ tagline in order to understand the ad. From a branding perspective, you NEVER want to reinforce the competition’s message in your own advertising. Go where the competition isn’t — that’s why Pepsi is blue and Coke is red.

3) I was going to write that the message of the billboard is totally disingenuous. Really? Lexus relentlessly pursues the “perfection” of the Buick Lacrosse? But then I did some research, and it turns out that the Lacrosse is pretty competitive with the Lexus ES 350, and about $2,500 less. But when I (finally) understood the billboard, I thought that there was no way a Lacrosse could compete with the Lexus. Motor Trend even rates the Lacrosse a full star higher than the ES 350. (Really.)

So what could make this ad campaign more effective? If it were me designing the ad, I’d go for less cutesy and more straightforward. “Buick Lacrosse beats Lexus — for thousands less.” (I might even throw in a “Really.”) It’s not very sexy ad copy, but it might work flying by at 65.