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RIP, Steve Jobs

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

My dad was a PC before being a PC meant being John Hodgman. I’ve worked on a Windows-based computer since I was playing Commander Keen as a three year old. We never had a Macintosh, but I do remember using iMacs in 4th and 5th grade. Even to a PC, losing the co-founder of Apple is a pretty big moment.

Yesterday, my generation’s visionary died, and we’re a little broken up about it. You can see it in the flurry of sincere tweets, obituaries, and blog posts from a normally-disaffected generation. He was our John Lennon, a dreamer who seemed to believe in himself and his own ideas on a supernatural level. I saw more than one tweet fly by into the ether last night about how losing Steve Jobs is my generation’s version of losing Walt Disney, someone else whose ideas were so brilliant and so new. People are actually laying flowers for Steve Jobs, a former executive at Apple stores he helped create. That is absolutely unheard of in an era whe

re our nation’s youth are protesting in front of Wall Street, an era where we distrust anyone wearing a suit and cast shame on executives across the country.

Steve Jobs showed us why we should Think Different. He hired the brightest people and expected them to make the best products. He pushed his employees to the edge because on the edge, legends are born. He proved to us that breaking the rules isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the only thing to do. We learned from Steve that if you’re good enough, you make your own rules. Through his work, he taught us that simplicity in design trumps complexity every time. His products showed us that ease of use is a beautiful thing.

Steve Jobs taught us that sometimes, things break, and the world will crush you. He also taught us that there’s freedom in losing everything. After being fired from Apple in the 80’s, he could have sat on his couch, wallowing around with a bag of cheetos and daytime TV like the rest of us. He started Pixar instead. He taught a generation of underpaid, underemployed, and overworked people that life is too short to work in a job you don’t like. We learned from Steve that settling for a life we don’t want is far worse than feeling lost for a little while, and we each take that lesson with us well into our twenties.

The fact that the majority of my generation probably heard about his death via one of his products says more about the impact of Steve Jobs than words ever can. But Steve Jobs means more to us than the phones in our pockets, laptops in our backpacks and music in our ears. He showed us what we could be if we were brave enough and heard our inner voice in a clear and resonating tone. He was a genius, someone who changed the world, and he will always be an inspiration to each and every one of us.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.

Superbowl Ads That Didn’t Suck

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

[This post ran on The Next Great Generation earlier today. You should check that site daily for awesome articles]

It’s Superbowl Sunday, I’m in Wisconsin, and I have a confession to make: I don’t care about football. This sort of statement is blasphemy to the Lambeau-loving Packer fans I’ve been lucky enough to call my friends, but it’s true. Fortunately, I like food, advertising, and alcohol, so they let me watch the game with them and I’m not cast into exile for my heretic beliefs. All is well in the land of cheese and beer.

See, the Superbowl is literally “the Superbowl” of advertising.  What started out as a championship battle between the best football teams in the NFL has turned into the most-watched television show of the year, so it’s a very attractive event to brands. In today’s hyper-fragmented, ad-averse society, getting 90 million+ sets of eyeballs to actually want to watch an ad is nothing short of miraculous. Companies understand this, and are willing to pony up$100,000 per second to get the privilege of beaming its messages into the collective consciousness of America.

So in between the touchdowns, fumbles, and the Black Eyed Peas freaking out half of the country with its “Dirty Bits” during the halftime show, I watched the ads. In the spirit of the USA Today Ad Meter and TNGG-Daddy Mullen’s Brandbowl, I’ll try to do my own “Sentiment Analysis” by asking random drunk friends what they think. Here’s a semi-sober round-up of a few of my favorite ads of the evening.

Chrysler: This ad is probably my favorite of the night. While I’m sure a lot of people enjoy it just for the Eminem cameo, the copy is dynamite. It’s a long-form ode to Detroit, luxury, and American engineering. Detroit is a broken-down city, a desolate wasteland of former productivity and industry, and a casualty of outsourcing. But the city is also a testament to the ability to rebuild. It reminds me a lot of the Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign, and rightly so, as it’s another product of Portland powerhouse Wieden & Kennedy.  This ad connects with many generations, from the Boomers who knew Motown as it once was to Millennials who appreciate Eminem’s gritty reality. This ad is a giant dare (“just try and buy a foreign car”), and I really dig that. The only potential downfall of the ad is that you had to hear the copy to understand it. If you were in the middle of a Superbowl party, you wouldn’t have been able to hear the words (I had to YouTube the ad to really enjoy it). Still, it gets you emotionally invested in this country in a far more organic way than the chintzy “America! Fuck yeah!” pre-kickoff segments.

VW: Well, this was pretty cute. A kid dressed as Darth Vader attempts to use “The Force” to do various things around the house. When he (she?) attempts to start a car with only the power of his/her mind, it actually works because of the magic remote start technology of the car. It worked for me, and everyone else in the room seemed to enjoy it.

Groupon: I think this one takes the cake as the most controversial ad of the night. It’s from CPB, so I would expect no less. Call it tasteless or call it entertaining, but it definitely has everyone talking. The ad makes light of the situation in Tibet in order to sell Groupon’s ability to find us cheap things. Given the reaction to Kenneth Cole’s tweet about the riots in Egypt, it certainly is timely. But I like that a Superbowl spot was controversial instead of low-brow (I counted two groin-shot ads before the beginning of the second quarter), and it definitely raises awareness about Tibet. Feel free to argue with me. Also, check out the Groupon CEO’s response to all the haters out there.

At this point, if I had a shorter word count I’d probably talk about how JJ Abrams is always able to create buzz around a movie by being very cryptic (Super 8 looks fantastic) and how Coke managed to stick to its brand identity, but I’ve spent enough words deconstructing a few of my favorites.

I’d love to hear what everyone else thought about the night’s best ads. What do you think?

 

 

When It Comes To Social Media, I’m With Coco

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

There aren’t many people I idolize, but Conan O’Brien is definitely one of them. He’s a Massachusetts-bred, Harvard-educated comedy genius. He wrote for my favorite show, The Simpsons, when it was easily the best show on TV. After his stint at The Simpsons, he somehow edged his way into late-night comedy as a host of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” and eventually made it to “the big chair” when he became the host of the coveted “Tonight Show.”

Conan’s zany characters (who can forget the Masturbating Bear or Triumph the Insult Comic Dog?) just didn’t play well in the earlier timeslot because they didn’t connect with older, Jay Leno-loving audience. So in early 2010, when we all learned that Conan would be leaving NBC, the internet erupted and Conan O’Brien became a folk hero. Since then, he’s learned to harness the power of social media to create buzz for his new show, and he’s done it well enough to be crowned King of Social Media by Fast Company, which is no easy feat in the “Year of Old Spice.” Everyone can learn a thing or two about marketing from Conan O’Brien.

Listen to your fans

I remember when Conan quit amidst the rumors of Jay Leno reclaiming his old timeslot. #TeamConan was trending on Twitter for days, and #TeamJay was nowhere to be found. The groundswell of support happened on Facebook too. Conan had the support of the entire internet; the “cause” went viral. It was almost as if Conan was a stand-in for the American worker; he was a very talented, very qualified man who had been fired from his job in a recession. We related to him, and we supported him.

Without trying, Conan’s team crowdsourced promotional material from the mob of angry-but-supportive fans. Team Coco absorbed fan-made support into its promotional strategy. “Team Coco” became more than just a hashtag; it became a movement, and later an official blog. Sometimes, it’s okay to ride the wave of support. Often, customers and fans can be used to help determine your brand’s strategy…isn’t that what market research is all about?

Get creative with social media

Conan created his own Twitter account. He has a strong following on Facebook and Tumblr, where his team tells jokes and promotes Conan. He has a Youtube channel where he answers questions from fans (brands have learned some tricks from Old Spice). He also has a blimp (oh, the humanity!). The Conan Blimp is floating around the East Coast, and if you’re lucky enough to check-in on Foursqure at a venue where the blimp is checked-in at, you get a special badge.

Conan is using nearly every popular social networking platform to spread his Goofy Gospel. It’s a good example of how any brand can use social media to its benefit if it gets creative enough.  If your brand’s audience is active on social media, then you should be attempting to interact with them.

Combine paid and earned media

Conan has been famous since before the internet became popular. He didn’t start out “internet-famous.” He put in a lot of work, cultivated his fan base on TV, and it all paid off for him when he needed it. His team also used many television ads, an in-person road show (aptly titled the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour”), and print ads to promote the new show. This is a very good lesson to remember: the best campaigns usually have a mix of paid and earned media to get their message to the consumer. Don’t forget that the Old Spice Guy first started out on a TV commercial before he blew up over the internet. It’s easy to have 15 minutes of fame on the internet; it’s much more difficult to turn those 15 minutes into a lasting benefit for the brand.

As I write this, Conan’s team just ended a 24-hour live webcam. They did some very strange, very wonderful things in those 24 hours: Bearobics, a dancing taco, a zombie attack, and intern twister, all while taking some direction from fans. It was another great use of social media and the internet by Team Coco.  I watched a ton of it because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. I definitely won’t be missing out on Conan’s return to the small screen on November 8th. Welcome back, Coco!

Are you as happy as I am that Conan is returning? What other celebrities have used social media well?

(Image via)

 

Generation Meme

September 27, 2010 2 comments

On a particularly moving episode of Mad Men this season, Don Draper fell apart. The only woman who ever truly knew him (Spoiler alert! He’s not actually Don Draper) had died, and he was having a very hard time dealing with it. For the first time in the series’ run, Don Draper broke down and cried.

12 hours later, an image of Don Draper crying exploded across the internet. Within hours of its creation, Sad Don Draper was the internet flavor of the week. It became an internet meme.

What’s a meme?

According to the term’s originator, Richard Dawkins, you should think of a meme as a tiny bit of culture that gets passed along like a gene. A meme is a cultural virus. It is passed between humans in person, through word-of-mouth, and through various forms of media until it remixes itself or reaches extinction.

An “internet meme” spreads primarily from the ground up on the internet. This means that memes don’t usually originate from Google or Facebook, but rather 4Chan, the lawless, “international waters” of the internet.  It then “infects” others through word-of-mouth, email, blogs and social media. Memes are all around us.

If you’re my age, you probably remember the Hamster Dance (and the mere mention of it probably brings back that horrible, horrible song). More recent memes you’re probably familiar with include The Rickroll (click the link, I DARE YOU), The Bed Intruder Song, Keyboard Cat and, of course, LOLcats.

Sounds quite a bit like going viral, right?

Yep. “Going viral” simply refers to a meme’s ability to infect culture online, often with a brand message. The most recent (and largely successful) viral campaign was the Old Spice Guy, Isaiah Mustafa. While that campaign was the result of previous paid media (TV ads came before the viral phenomenon), Old Spice’s viral Youtube campaign will go down in advertising history.

Brands understand the power of viral videos; word-of-mouth spreads, and consumers trust other consumers more than advertisers. While most word-of-mouth is still spread offline (the proverbial “watercooler” is still alive and well), viral videos have a large impact on offline culture. This is why Tosh.0, a show devoted to viral videos and internet culture, often gets bigger ratings than The Daily Show. Internet culture has become our culture. Like it or not, we are Generation Meme.

Let’s use memes to sell stuff!

Naturally, brands are trying to capitalize on our love of memes. They’re trying to find out what makes something go viral so that they can create the newest viral masterpiece. Some advertisers are beginning to use viral stars in their ads; most recently, the The Double Rainbow Guy was featured in an ad for Microsoft. So, will we continue to see more and more memes show up in ads?

It really depends on how fast the advertisers can react to culture. Old Spice’s viral campaign was about as low-latency as it gets; people were sending out questions via social media to Old Spice, and within a day an ad had been made and aired on Youtube. However, this isn’t the norm. By the time a lot of advertisers will have devised a script, developed a budget, and produced the commercial, the meme would already be decreasing in popularity or extinct.

The cycle time for a meme (from initial discovery to extinction) is getting much shorter. As soon as one meme pops up, another will soon follow. Memes are popping up weekly. This means that advertisers are going to have to get the approval of clients and create an entire ad in very little time. This is not easy to do.

For advertisers, it’s really a race to see if they can put together a coherent ad before the meme loses its place in pop culture. If there’s one thing worse than not making an ad at all, it’s trying to capitalize on pop culture after the fad is over and looking uncool and out-of-date (though, sometimes that’s the point).

I guess the real question is whether or not memes will stay around in culture long term. Is Sad Keanu going to be our generation’s Mona Lisa? Absolutely not. But for now, they make us laugh. As long as the internet allows us to share all the strange and wonderful things we find, memes will have a place in our funny bones.

What do you think: Are memes now a part of pop culture or are they just odd spasms of internet weirdness? Can advertisers use them without “selling out?”

Four Reasons Why Group Buying Works

August 28, 2010 1 comment

50% off? GOTTA GET IT!

In The Simpsons, the town of Springfield is filled with more beloved characters than any other show. Ask someone who has seen the show who their favorite character is, and you’ll probably hear more people say Moe, Disco Stu, and Mr. Burns than Homer, Bart, and Lisa. While the characters are so vibrant and individual, the town is incredibly prone to mob rule. Nathan Rabin of the AV Club writes:

“Mobs are ubiquitous in The Simpsons: it only takes a tiny catalyst to transform a crowd from a band of angels to a bloodthirsty lynch mob and back again.”

Enter group buying, which turns the internet into Springfield

Group buying is one of the newest trends in social media today. Every day, group buying platforms like Groupon send out a deal via email or mobile phone. It’s a group coupon (Groupon….get it?) that is only activated once a certain number of people opt to purchase the deal. If you accept the Groupon but nobody else does, you don’t get the deal. This allows the businesses involved to use the power of scale and offer great deals.

Recently, Groupon offered its first national deal when it partnered with The Gap (pay $25, get $50 credit at the store), and the public went nuts. Groupons were flying off the proverbial shelves at 10 per second, and at the end of the day 400,000 Groupons had been sold. In the week after the deal, an additional 750,000 people subscribed to the service. So, what’s the big deal? Here are four reasons why I think group buying works.

1. Mob mentality

In order to get the deal, a predetermined number of people have to accept it. It tells you how many people have accepted the deal and how many more people need to accept the deal before it is activated. Here’s where Springfield comes in. One minute, the town of Springfield is just hanging around minding their own business, and the next minute they’ve decided to build a casino or a monorail in the town because one person suggested it. Similarly, it only takes a few people buying a coupon online for others to join in. The slightest nudge from Groupon, coupled with a basic human desire to fit inside of a group, to turn a previously disconnected subset of people into a consumer mob. The internet is full of examples of mob mentality. Viral hits and memes spread (among other reasons) because everyone wants to be a part of some bigger group; they want to be insiders. Think of group buying as “coupons that go viral.”

2. Group buying promotes social sharing

People love to get a great deal. Even more than that, they like to tell everyone they know about it. Scoring a discount is a fun thing for every age, from college students (“DUDE! 2-4-1 drinks tonight!”) to housewives (“I just got $1 off my purchase of Kleenex!”).  It feels like you’ve finally beaten The Man. Groupon promotes social sharing because of the urge to brag about the deal you received with anyone who will listen. With social media, people are able to broadcast their sweet deal to everyone they know (and many they will never meet in person), creating an organic online word-of-mouth campaign. I haven’t yet taken advantage of a Groupon deal (sacrilege, I know), so I’m not sure if they have an option to Tweet their new deal and share it on Facebook, but they definitely should. Even with local deals (the bread and butter of Groupon), you’re able to spread the word to the office,  friends, and neighbors.

3. Nobody wants to miss an opportunity to save

If people love to brag about the deals they got, they sure hate to be the one on the other side of the conversation: The person not in-the-know about a secret deal. Group buying relies on the idea that nobody likes to miss an opportunity; the deal only lasts a day, and if you wait too long it’ll be gone. Nobody wants non-buyer’s remorse. It’s the same thing that happens when an infomercial tells you “Act now! For the next 20 minutes, we’ll sell you our garbage for 50% off!”

4. The deals!

Above all, Groupon and other group buying platforms present pretty great deals, with benefits for the consumer and the business involved. Many of the deals are for vouchers or credit at a restaurant or business, so you aren’t obligated to use that deal the day you buy it. This gives flexibility to the consumer and ensures that the place of business isn’t walloped by customers on just one day. The consumers also get a great deal; it’s very common to see offers for half-off or more. Group buying is also great for small, local businesses. I’ve seen a lot of deals for things like canoe rentals and nail salons, services that you’d never really think about in the first place. Group buying gives exposure to small businesses, so it’s no surprise that Groupon says 97% of businesses featured want to use it again.

It appears that group buying is going to stick around for a while. It will be interesting to see how it adapts to technology; tying group buying with other social media would be very interesting and likely lucrative. As social media grows and changes and life becomes more mobile, group buying could be integrated with geo-targeted ads and location-based services to create a unique experience for each consumer.

What do you think of group buying? Have you bought a Groupon deal yet?

(Photo via)

1. Mob mentality

In order to get the deal, a predetermined number of people have to accept it. It tells you how many people have accepted the deal and how many more people need to accept the deal before it is activated. Here’s where Springfield comes in. One minute, the town of Springfield is just hanging around minding their own business, and the next minute they’ve decided to build a casino or a monorail in the town because one person suggested it. Similarly, it only takes a few people buying a coupon online for others to join in. The slightest nudge from Groupon, coupled with a basic human desire to fit inside of a group, to turn a previously disconnected subset of people into a consumer mob. The internet is full of examples of mob mentality. Viral hits and memes spread (among other reasons) because everyone wants to be a part of some bigger group; they want to be insiders. Think of group buying as “coupons that go viral.”

Marketing Lessons From Bob Dylan

August 14, 2010 3 comments

I love Bob Dylan’s music. I once tried to turn in a paper relating “Like a Rolling Stone” to colonialism (it didn’t go over so well). For most of college, I lived and breathed his story, his music, and his life. There’s something so hopeful, so invigorating about some kid from Minnesota moving to New York with nothing but a guitar and a head full of ideas and somehow succeeding. His music always spoke to a greater understanding about the world than one person could ever have; the melodies he creates and words he links together evoke the past, present, and future of America. Here are a few lessons about marketing that you can learn from Bob Dylan.

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Social Media: Expectations vs Reality

August 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the summer I’ve been managing the social media accounts of clients in a wide range of industries, from restaurants to spokes-rappers (seriously) to professional organizers. I’ve learned some things along the way, and since I’ve written about using social media as a business before, I think I’ll make some observations about how it works in reality. I’ve been on the frontlines of the social media landscape, and from my trials and tribulations come the following lessons.

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Check Out Checking-In

July 29, 2010 7 comments

| Why your business should embrace location-based social media |

The other day, an article came out with the title “Study Says Most Marketers Should Forgo Foursquare.” Naturally, a title like that is going to entice me to a read it. It explains that only 4% of adults use the location-based social media service, and 80% of the users are male. It also stated that 70% of users are in between ages 19-35, and 70% have college degrees or higher. Now, do these stats sound like a dead zone for marketers? Of course not! If anything, these stats are conducive to huge growth in the future, as the millennial generation grows older and Foursquare becomes more popular.

Think about it; what Foursquare does is entice consumers into your place of business, restaurant, or bar. It creates competition to see who can visit your venue the most. I’ve talked about Foursquare before, but this time I want to talk about how businesses can use it to increase their revenues. I recently read an article about how you can use Foursquare as a marketing tool, and it gave me some ideas. In the article, Danny Brown mentioned that you can use it as a cross-platform tool (enticing people to go to a bar after a movie, for example). Here are some other ideas on how to monetize Foursquare for your business, beyond just having specials for the mayor.

Loyalty Program: Use it as a reward for stopping by more than once. Make a special that says you’ll get something for free (or a discount) on the tenth time you go in. Entice the customer to continue to come in, and reward them for frequency. This allows more than one person to be incentivized for frequency, while still letting one person continue to be mayor (regardless of the prize, it IS fun to dethrone a mayor).

Swarm Party: Believe it or not, one of the more innovative Foursquare ideas I’ve heard of came out of Milwaukee. AJ Bomber’s has used Foursquare very well, and more restaurants should take notice. Bomber’s had an idea to host a “Swarm Party” on a Sunday. Basically, they offered the possibility of a coveted Swarm Badge (for those not in the know, you get one for checking-in to a venue with more than 50 other Foursquare users). 161 people showed up, and everyone got their swarm badge. Additionally, this stunt increased sales by 110%. Your business could go further and say that everyone in the building gets a free drink if you get enough people for a swarm badge. Even if less than 50 people check in, you’ll still have a decent-sized crowd ready to spend money. This is just a case of people lusting after something with no inherent value; consumers will gladly spend money if they get a chance at a swarm badge.

Check-in With a Friend: Have a special that rewards bringing new customers in. If you can show them that you’re bringing a friend in and it’s their first time checking in, reward the word-of-mouth with a special. This is easy enough to prove (and, I’m assuming that as the software becomes more advanced you’ll be able to track the number of people checking-in to your business), and it promotes new business.

Obviously, there’s a very large space for innovation and creativity when it comes to using Foursquare as a marketing tool. As the stats say, very few people currently use it, but that number is growing. The great thing about technology like this is that the possibilities for using it are endless; all your business has to do is embrace Foursquare and get to work counting your money. Let’s hear it: What are some other ways you think businesses can use Foursquare as a marketing tool?

(photo via The Dog & Pony Show and ThinkGeek)

Go Forth, Get to Work, and Be A Pioneer

July 21, 2010 1 comment

| Why Levi’s “Go Forth” Campaign Resonates With My Generation |

Sometimes, an ad on TV will make me stop what I’m doing and watch without interruption. About a year ago, a Levi’s spot made me do just that. It was mostly dark, the copy was some sort of poem, and I instantly LOVED it. That ad was the first part of Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign. The ads use Walt Whitman poems very well (on one ad, apparently it is his own voice). The copy of the poem “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” is supposed to evoke an emotional response from my generation, and I think it does. Here’s a snippet:

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers
(Rest of poem here. Highly Recommended)

The first few ads (the other you can watch on YouTube) show young people running around interspersed with grim visions of Wall Street and America. “America” is literally half-underwater in one ad, which I think is supposed to symbolize the grim, hopeless recession-era we were in (and still are, to a degree). Some people loved it. Some thought it was too arty. Others mocked it (which usually means people are at least paying attention). Either way, it really struck a chord with me.

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The Jaded Gen-Y Guide to Business Buzzwords

July 12, 2010 1 comment

Every profession has jargon that is used as shorthand, and that’s great. Using jargon is necessary so a carpenter doesn’t have to say “that big metal doo-hickey” and so scientists don’t have to use long, boring explanations to explain what a uberthermodynamic enthropic reaction is (disclaimer: I don’t think that is real). These words and phrases are around to make their lives easier and less confusing. Buzzwords in business, however, seem to be around solely to make everyone a little more confused. I think they’re around so that you can convey meaning where none actually exists and so you can sound more important than you actually are. It’s the same reason some writers use the term “antediluvian” just to say “before the flood” or “really old.”

I’m not very fond of buzzwords. For the reasons I previously listed, they’re made fun of by a lot of people (present company included). This scene from 30 Rock is a great parody of using buzzwords. I went to B-School (Go Badgers) so I have a pretty good idea of what they actually mean (most of the time). I’ve seen more acronyms than I could ever remember, have heard of more “blue oceans”, and have explained the “hedgehog concept” (all it means is “do what you’re good at.” HOW IS “HEDGEHOG CONCEPT” EASIER?). Naturally, I’m a little jaded.

Here’s a layman’s dictionary of buzzwords you’ll hear in business, PR, and marketing from someone who is a little cynical about them. If this blog was a tabloid, I’d call this post “The Definitions THEY Don’t Want You to Know!!!” Check it out after the jump, and leave some more of your favorites in the comments.

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