Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

Super Bowl

Today, the Super Bowl is played. New England Patriots vs. Giants, in case you have been out of the country in the last week or so. For advertising and communications people who wouldn’t otherwise watch football, this is a must-see game. For the advertising. It costs a lot. Because lots of people will be watching. Some advertisers only run advertising on the Super Bowl. That is their strategy: spend millions once a year to get a large, captive (and hopefully, receptive) audience. It has become sport to talk about the ads, dissect them, analyze them, discuss them. In this respect, they win. In fact, on CBS Sunday Morning, they just had a story about Super Bowl advertising, in fact, giving some free advertising to one of the advertisers. And there is the real value of advertising on the Super Bowl–extra publicity in the form of media attention. Traditionally, this is called public relations and some people call it free advertising. But in fact, this is not free advertising…it is expensive advertising. You get the public relations bang because you spent lots of money. Not because you are newsworthy prima facie.

One other interesting aspect that the CBS story pointed out is that most of the Super Bowl ads will send you to an Internet address. It makes it interactive.

Entertainment Weekly has a gallery of the most “memorable” Super Bowl ads here http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20010598,00.html

The interesting thing is I only remember one or two of these. What does this tell you?

I will probably watch part of the game…and I will watch the ads of course. It’s for work.

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Necessary information

Today, in the Washington Post,  I saw an ad for a ski resort. It is $79 per night and seems reasonable (not that I ski, but if I did…). However, I don’t know where this resort is located. Why? Because the ad either deliberately or by mistake omitted this crucial information. Maybe they want me to visit the website for more information (the URL address is included). Maybe they just think people know where they are located. In either case this is a no-no.  Ads are meant to stimulate interest and action. There is the whole AIDA theory (attention, interest, desire, action).  Although this ad caught my attention, I lost my interest when I got frustrated at not knowing where this place is located.  Perhaps knowing this resort is located close by would pique my interest. Maybe not.  But ads should never make their readers work too hard. In this case, I need to get to my computer with the ad in hand to find out a very crucial bit of information.

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Websites

Today, it is imperative to have a website. No doubt. However, just having a website is not enough. In the last few days, I have been doing research for a trip, and have come across several great websites, but also, some not so great websites. What makes a great website? I will give you my breakdown:

  • Easy to navigate (this means no funky/weird pull down menus or navigation that is not available on every page)
  • All the necessary information is readily available (contacts, address, etc) and easily accessible
  • Updated regularly (no 2006 information for instance)
  • Aesthetically pleasing–not busy or dated
  • No dead links or pages
  • Looks professional
  • Not overly busy or with screaming graphics
  • Not too much  flash and no sound

It would be useful for website owners to have someone look at their website from the “outside.” Sometimes you forget the user!

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Headline here

How important are headlines? In news, they are super important, especially to people like me who scan rather than read the newspaper. A headline tells you the bare essence of the story, and it either catches your attention or it doesn’t. It is much the same in public relations except PR folk get a chance to have a really long headline and perhaps even add a subheadline or two. You sometimes get extra points for clever.

In advertising…well…I am not sure. Design, graphics, placement and offer make up 99% of an ad. Strong creative headlines can cause interest. But simple headlines, like “We are having a sale” can communicate easily and effectively without trying too hard to be clever. That said, I love headlines that are a play on words or use words elegantly.

One of my favorite types of ads are the ones were the headline tells you one thing, and the graphics tell a different story. Currently here in Washington there is an ad you can see on the Metro for Washington Sports Club. The headline says: “This January, help is on the way.” The graphic shows an overweight man, sitting on a couch, watching tv and drinking a soda, while walking his dog on a treadmill. Funny as hell. And makes you look at it and just shake your head. Love it!

Any favorite headlines or ads?

PS–Here’s a look at the graphic from the ad I quote above: http://www.mysportsclubs.com/regions/WSC.htm

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MLK Day

Since today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day (which, as an aside, should be celebrated by ALL businesses–it often isn’t), I got to thinking about tie-ins to holidays. This type of advertising is big in print, specifically newspapers. You know, using the upcoming holiday either for a sale (as in “Our biggest President’s Day Sale ever) or riffing on the holiday (“Do it for your valentine”). Many companies take the time to remind you that they are open (if they are retail) or closed (if they are banks) on the holiday.

In public relations, practictioners sometimes find obscure days (Spaghetti Lovers’ Day) to give a spin to their press releases. In fact, Chase’s Calendar of Events is a book dedicated to listing all the events, holidays and special days for the upcoming year and is usually found in any public relations or event management firm’s bookshelf (or CD shelf). Of course, events always have a theme (St. Patrick’s Day Bar Hop, Fourth of July Barbeque, New Year’s Eve Gala, etc.)

Do these endless holiday tie-ins dilute the message or the holiday itself? In some cases, the answer is a definite yes. I bet most people don’t know which presidents are being celebrated on President’s day (Washington and Lincoln) but do know that EVERYTHING is on sale at the mall! In a way, we are doing a huge disservice to our civic celebrations and commemorations when we use them to promote sales. Is MLK day a day to go shopping or is it a day to think about how short the history of full civil rights in the U.S. really is?

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Do U Ck Spelling?

A victim of all the texting and instant messaging is spelling. You simply don’t have time to spell everything out. Everything becomes acronyms or shortenings.  Page 3 in today’s Washington Post has a feature on the importance of spelling and grammar. One reader likens proper grammar/spelling to using the proper notes in music (if you don’t, the music just doesn’t sound right).  As a writer, I agree. However, does the public agree? Do most people even realize when something is not spelled correctly or when grammar is poor? I once worked with a “writer” who did not know how to make his subject and verb agree. And he was completely unaware. Recently, on a DCPubs (a Yahoo group) discussion, someone asked what was wrong with using “their” as a gender-neutral alternative to “he or she.” This person was completely unaware that one is plural and the other singular.  (As an aside, we HEAR this all the time in conversation, but in formal writing?)

So, I ask you, are spelling and grammar important? Do you notice lapses in either or both?

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Person to Person

Facebook has exploded in popularity. MySpace is super popular. There are many other social networking sites I have never even heard of. All of this points to an increase in using the Internet to connect with other people. Person to person. How is this changing marketing? For one, marketing is increasingly more targeted. It is by-passing traditional avenues and heading straight to its most likely audience. I just checked out www.gather.com. Big national stores like Borders and Starbucks have a presence there.  I wonder how their experiment is working out. Are you more likely to shop at either place because you joined a social group they sponsor on a social networking site? I guess that is the million dollar question. On the other hand, can you afford to ignore a burgeoning movement in the way people communicate with each other? 

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The 4 Ps

In marketing communications, we focus on just one of the four ps — promotion. However, as a marketer, you must consider the other three ps–price, product and placement. Often, we concentrate on having the best promotional materials but not the item or service we are promoting. For instance,  a beautiful ad might draw attention to your lovely widget, but if your widget is too expensive or is not available, then there will be no sale. Because the truth is, at the end of the day, we are all trying to make a sale. Associations are looking for members. Stores are looking to move merchandise. Even ideas are “sold.” We  call that persuasion.

MarComm people don’t or can’t control the other three ps. But I think it is part of our job as advisers to make sure our clients understand that promotion alone does not make the sale. And it is also our responsibility to understand what the product, service or idea is.

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My newest web venture

It’s kind of funny. I have been thinking about starting a blog for some time now, and last night I went to a WNBA event here in Washington (not a basketball game but an event sponsored by the Women’s National Book Association). The event was about book publicity and basically, the big conclusion of the evening was that to publicize a book today you must be on the web. You must have a website, or a blog, or both, or even just a MySpace page. Something on the WWW. Of course, that is just the start, because you have to get people to read your stuff too. 

That got me to thinking about my area of so-called expertise, marketing communications.  Specifically, I am thinking about traditional marketing communications tools such as brochures and press releases. Are these necessary anymore, or will they become as obsolete as Windows 98?  The answer I think is yes, eventually. Today, there is  still a market that is not tech savvy. There are people who enjoy print. Eventually those people will become obsolete, if you know what I mean.  For now, I think any savvy marcomm person needs to have a complete bag of tricks–press releases, blogs, websites, printed brochures, downloadable press kits, etc.  Also, there is a whole generation of marcomm people who are not comfortable in a completely electronic environment, or don’t understand how to go about it. Or they know just a little bit and are afraid to learn. Then, there are the young ‘uns, who have been on Facebook since it started and who prefer texting to talking. We are not only communicating to this generation, but we are using them to do the communicating for us (that is, we hire them as interns, account execs, copywriters or whatever). 

In a traditional marcomm agency, be it straight PR or straight advertising or a hybrid, the upper echelon (or “management”) may still be clinging to the days before email was an alternative to a phone call and videoconferencing was super cool. Webinars and podcasts are not a substitute for a good old fashioned ad or press release. And they keep doing the same old and wondering why they are losing market share. Change is always slower for an established company. But what distinguishes effective marketing in my opinion, is understanding who the target audience is and where they get their information. Thus, if we are marketing hearing aids, perhaps print (an older skewing medium) alone will do the trick. But if we are trying to expand a market, reach younger people, then we’d be foolish to expend all efforts on traditional media. 

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