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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Lessons from a Bike Saddle

I’ve come to realize that managing the life cycle of a product or brand is similar to riding a bike. It’s about shifting gears appropriately and making adjustments in rough terrain. Let me explain.

Starting your ride    

Start your ride in a comfortable gear. You’re warming up, getting the kinks out, checking to make sure you are ready for what lies ahead.


The secret to a successful climb is to keep pedaling. Keep yourself moving forward, in a lower gear, which allows you to pedal faster. You may lose a little speed on each revolution, but you will go further and with greater efficiency. The same is true for your brand. When you launch, you want something that is ready to go. It’s tempting, then, to wait until your growth starts to slow before making any real changes.

You are better off to make smaller tweaks as you grow, using that momentum to grow even more. Roll with the changes, not against them. It is much too difficult to restart up a hill when you are in that higher gear—making one large, sweeping change versus smaller ones along the way.


At some point, you’ll reach the peak, and sales will start to plateau. Here’s where you shift gears, again. This time, you are slowing down the pace of change, increasing the efficiency of your investments.


When you find your sales in a precipitous decline, just coast. Spend as little as possible. If you have an opportunity to change course and start back up a hill or along another plateau, start pedaling in that direction.

Rough Terrain

There may be times you find yourself going over some rough terrain. It is crucial to remain vigilant, making slight changes quickly so as not to lose your balance or veer too far off course (unless you got off course in the first place).

The real key is to remain in efficient control of what you are doing, not fighting against yourself or overusing resources. Because properly managing a brand is just like riding a bike.

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Find a Middle Ground

Many companies approach managing their brand in one of two ways. Some will take a conservative approach, wanting to stay true to the brand and not take too many, if any, risks. Others focus on shiny new objects, looking to use the latest and greatest or the next hot thing.

For a company’s long-term success, there needs to be a middle ground, a balance between staying true to the brand, while exploring new ways to communicate that consistent message. And the way to do that is to stay anchored while exploring. Yes, it sounds a bit contradictory or even oxymoronish (some might want to drop the oxy part).

But it works. Start by documenting, specifically, what your desired result is. Indentify how, what you are doing fits with the overall strategy. Write your central message, tone and key points on paper. Get agreement that it accurately reflects the brand.

Now, evaluate how you can use the shiny objects to achieve the desired results. If it’s not the right fit, don’t try to force it. You’ll just do more damage. Often, the really cool stuff isn’t going to work for your brand. And that is perfectly fine. If you really want to do something with it, make it a hobby. After you play with it for a while, you’ll either find an effective way to incorporate it, or you’ll see that it wouldn’t have worked in the first place.

Either way, you are staying true to the brand. And that is most important.

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Or Current Resident Too Generic

The real beauty of database marketing is that you can tailor your content to your customer. The effectiveness comes in having good data about those customers. Which is why addressing a promotional piece to “Joe Smith or Current Resident” doesn’t cut it.

For the company, finding that customer should be an act of desperation, begging the current resident for assistance in locating Joe. When the current resident helps, reward him with something that will make him a customer as well. Even if they can’t help, thank them for the effort.

But when “or Current Resident” is part of communication, you show that you care less about the customer and more about saying whatever you want to say or just making a sale. That’s not building loyalty.

And if you’re not focused on building loyalty, then why did you invest in a database marketing system to being with?

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Categorically Speaking

Marketers love to speak in terms of categories related to their particular brand—premium, super-premium, ultra-premium, giga-premium, you get the picture. From the consumer’s viewpoint, however, brands get considered a bit differently.

Think about the various things you buy (where there is some choice involved). What you actually purchase is based on how it fits into one of the following categories:

  • Strict loyalty—”I’ll only buy computers from Dell” or “A Honda is the only thing I’ll drive”
  • Consideration set—while the consumer may not be strictly loyal, your brand is in a select group whose purchase or use depends on the mood
  • Convenience set—people buy it because it’s easy due to location, availability, ease of transaction, etc.
  • Price set—you are the best price on the shelf (this time)
  • Ignorance—the customer really doesn’t know any better

Chances are, you’re in more than one of these categories. And that is perfectly fine, as long as you use it to your advantage. And do use it to your advantage. Talk to your customers in those terms. Create your customer service to reinforce it.

Make it work for you.

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You Need to Start Right

I’ve been writing about companies’ creative not matching up with their core brand or message. I really see only two possible reasons why. One, it could simply be poor execution. The other, comes down to not truly understanding what the creative is intended to do.

Before embarking on a new ad, promotion, or even purchase, you need to create a project brief. The brief gives some background, establishes a business case, assesses options and lays the groundwork for the deliverable. Within it, you include the objectives, tone, key message points and any other pertinent information for generating successful results.

Of course, it has to be on strategy.

You now will have a working project brief. It will be your guide. Follow it. Tweak it. Measure your results against it. And stay faithful to it.

It will make the difference.

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