Not Sure What They Are Selling

I’ve been seeing a number of different car commercials lately, but, other than the obvious, I’m not really sure what they’re selling. Some examples:

  • GM, yet again, is offering employee pricing on its vehicles. This year, they attempt to couch it in terms of an anniversary. This is something they have been doing since around 2000, and they pull the trick out whenever their sales are in the dumps, which seems to be most years. If your vehicles weren’t relevant before, resurrecting a bad sales idea isn’t going to change that. Sell your cars on their merit, not the fact that you’ve been overpricing and underdelivering.
  • VW seems to think that German engineering is best expressed through black Beetle acting as a talk show host. Saying that you have German engineering doesn’t make it good—the engineering itself does, however. Tell me what it means and what I can expect to experience from it.
  • Mitsubishi has introduced a new engine, yet doesn’t feel the need to explain to anyone what makes it unique or at least different. When you spend that kind of R&D money, market the heck out of the result.
  • Ford has introduced a new box on wheels with so-so EPA estimated mileage, touting it as something people should desire. Two things: one, average or slightly above average EPA estimated mileage isn’t enough, you have to do something revolutionary; two, most of us don’t care one lick what the EPA estimates the mileage to be in a vacuum on a treadmill with no friction, we care about the actual mileage from driving on real roads.

When you are marketing a product, no matter what it is, you have to focus on the actual features and benefits. If you don’t have any, save your money and reputation and stop selling it. Focus your energy on creating something that actually creates a point of differentiation. Be unique. Serve a market others ignore. Make a positive difference. But don’t, under any circumstances, try to treat your customers like gullible fools. That is the quickest route to irrelevance.

Realistic Product Placement

I got the Madden ’09 for the Wii this past week. It’s amazing that the franchise is 20 years old. It certainly has come a long way since I played the first version way back when. That includes the product placements.

At first, it seemed like it might only be music artists getting some extra exposure. However, in their attempt to make the game as real as possible, EA Sports has added sponsored segments, interspersed at key points in the game.

The move is somewhat brilliant. Our real NFL world is plastered with sponsorships. It only makes sense to translate that to the video games worshipping the sport. And make additional profit in the process.

The difference here is that we sort of expect it. We aren’t taken by that much of a surprise. It seems to fit. So there really isn’t much to complain about. We’re used to it. We’ve been conditioned to it. And it really doesn’t come off as overt.

I wonder, though, where else it might work in a seamless manner such as this.

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Target Customer Intelligence

I’m stunned at the number of companies targeting fools and idiots in their commercials. Geico continues with its ridiculous caveman ads, Cox has their talk show ads, Dunkin Donuts introduced a new product recently with the same concept, and Staples reduces people’s intellect to pushing a red button.

Maybe they are seeing something in their market research that identifies the less intelligent as a significant potential market. Perhaps they don’t think their customers recognize the insult. Or it could be they are counting on their customers not caring about being equated with nincompoops.

Here’s a thought. Advertise the actual features and benefits of the product. And move away from attempting to sell based on the “only the dumbest of the dumb haven’t bought it yet” philosophy.

Of course, I am assuming that these products have features and benefits worth selling and that they aren’t using these tactics as a cover.

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Ads 2.0

I set up some Google Alerts for certain keywords I want to track. One of the neat things about the alerts is that they can include blog posts and new web pages. Some of what I am finding is a bit perverse. Fortunately, the limited execution should mean a short life.

It happens a different ways. One involves a blog post (I’m guessing someone pays to put their post on the blog) with the author’s description at the bottom encouraging readers to learn more at some other website that is little more than a link farm and covered with ads.

Another includes ad links within the body of the post, written in the form of a parenthetical statement. These are easy to spot because they have nothing to do with the context of the piece, and the statements appear in random parts of the sentence.

The final method uses sham “objective third-party” endorsements. One in particular that I found started as a general press release. At the end of the release, there is a non-branded link encouraging people to learn more about the topic. Clicking on the link brings the viewer to a branded site pushing a particular product. To give credibility to the product, the web page refers to a national institute recommending it. The problem is that the institute doesn’t really exist. The product company set it up themselves.

There could be any number of reasons for setting up one of these goofy web 2.0 promotion gimmicks. My guess, though, is that the brand owners either haven’t tried using it themselves—because if they had they would see how ridiculous and in effective at brand building the effort is—or they are modern-day spammers hoping for the most gullible of web users, which also is utterly ineffective at building a brand.

A bit of advice, before subjecting your current and prospective customers to one of these versions of advertising, or any other promotion strategy for that matter, try it out yourself. If it doesn’t quite feel right or fails to reinforce the brand promise, don’t do it.

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Underdoing It at Overstock

I wonder if the good people at Overstock.com really have a message about who they are and what they represent. Their initial ads focused on a women sexually describing that it was all about “the O”.

Now, they apparently have some state of the art delivery system so that nothing gets between you and your purchase. But they don’t. They use the same as most others—UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.

So, what are they all about? What makes them important? Judging by their home page, it’s the index of items they sell and some special promotions. There’s no single identity for them.

And the identities they’ve tried to create don’t say anything accurate or important. There is no central message.

Look at your own brand through a consumer’s eyes. Does it make sense? Does it tell you what you need to know about the brand? Is it consistent with who you are? Is it all tied together to deliver the same message through multiple channels?

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Great Results Can Be Greater

Yesterday, I wrote about metrics and the importance of measuring relevant data—that which guides you to real growth. Carrying on with that theme, I saw a piece from Brandweek last week about Levi’s and viral videos. The article celebrated a new viral video from the denim giant focused on their 501 line of jeans that received 3.5 million hits in its first ten days. The jeans company wants to chase that early success now, hoping to ride the wave to a younger consumer base.

Having that kind of response is fantastic! Really, it is. And chasing that level of attention is spot on. Now comes the hard part: finding a way to measure how that first viral video translates into additional sales of 501s.

That also means that they have to chase the success in a way that allows them to measure the results in a meaningful way. In other words, whatever they do must convert new customers in a way that they can know what they did was right and why it worked.

Most folks will tell you that kind of measurement is near impossible. And they are right for the most part. And it’s because the ads and promotions themselves usually aren’t created in a way to generate measureable results.

Some compensate for that through web addresses specific to an ad, time frame or particular channel. Others use timing with a phone number (“call within the next 15 minutes…”). For direct sales, that can be effective. When the sale goes through an intermediary, like a retailer, using tools like those only measure web hits or phone calls.

An idea for Levi’s (which they may be all over already) would be to encourage customers to upload videos of what they are doing in their new 501s. Some benefits to Levi’s:

  • With the online component, they can capture some key information about the customer (at least what the person is willing to share) prior to the video upload
  • Running the promotion through YouTube or Facebook will allow for additional exposure
  • Regionalizing the entry pages themselves through ads and tags on the inventory offers an additional check on their demographic data

And that’s just the start. They won’t capture full and absolute data, but they will get a much better idea how effective their promotion strategy was on the heels of the initial viral video.

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Should Have Included Nextel

When I wrote yesterday about ads missing the mark, I should have included Nextel in the mix. They had the perfect opportunity to show how they help real people work smarter and decided to go for humor instead. Let me set the stage.

Nextel has two new commercials. One is a group of firefighters representing some sort of legislative body, attempting to show how easy things would be if a group of them were in a room talking through their phones. The other shows steelworkers acting as workers for the Department of Motor Vehicles. Through both, they show that blue-collar workers just care about getting something done—whether it’s good or not, with no discussion or debate, because, of course, life should be that simple.

If the point they hope to make is that using their service improves how people communicate, then show it in action. Find an organization bogged down in bureaucracy and lag times in decision-making. Give them phones and your service for a month, two months, a year. Then show how they became more efficient and effective and communicated better because of your product.

Showing people the real benefits to using good or service actually works.

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