Wednesday, January 28

What's All The Beef About The Naked Burger Ad?

With GoDaddy pulling its "Puppy Mill" ad, all eyes are now on Charlotte McKinney for Carl's Jr. to steal the top spot for most controversial Super Bowl advertisement this year. The advertisement, which will only run on the West Coast, features the top model bounding  through a farmer's market.

What makes the advertisement "controversial" is that McKinney appears to be naked in the majority of the spot, thanks to camera framing and prop placement. Feeding the fantasy is a series of gawking men who alternate between being distracted by the blonde beauty and fondling produce in front of her.

The commercial is supposed to sell a new hamburger for the quick service franchise, but mostly it sells McKinney. She usurps Paris Hilton and other socialites that Carl's Jr. has employed to sell food with sex. This time the caustic relationship is being all natural, alluding to nakedness and not altered.

Overall, the commercial does a great job at selling McKinney, but not such a great job at selling product. Most people struggle to remember the name of the new burger, a problem that isn't new for the fast food chain on the bottom of the big five burger businesses.


The problem isn't new. Most people don't remember what kind of burger Hilton or Heidi Klum ate either (and some can't remember the chain that supplied the sloppy eats). And even after doubling down on their decision to make premier hamburgers part of the product offering for Carl's Jr. and Hardees, the CKE business model has yet to eek out one percent of the quick burger market share.

To put that into perspective, its primary competition — Burger King, Wendy's, and Jack In The Box — have all captured 2 percent of the market. Meanwhile, McDonald's isn't even in the same category, owning 19 percent of the market share. The only reason it feels like the two compete for customers is that Carl's Jr. requires stores to spend about 5.8 percent of their sales on advertising to supplement regional advertising buys. In other words, the CKE sister chains tend to be more talk and less eat.

The Charlotte McKinney ad is less controversial and more boring. 

Let's be clear. McKinney is not boring. She does a fabulous job with a bad script and mediocre concept. Her presence in the spot is largely the freshest thing about it. The chain traded up in terms of spokespeople. It's a shame they didn't trade up their creative too.

The advertisement is a rehash of Benny Hill comedy with an Austin Powers twist. It pretends to be controversial, mostly because Carl's Jr. claims it is too hot for television, a boast that perpetuates some outdated masculine myth that women used to be sexually stymied but are now liberated, which is good news for men who love to objectify them.

Aside from that, it also perpetuates the myths that sex sells and attention is the end all of advertising. On the contrary, sex doesn't sell and publicity is cheap. Naked women aren't clever. They are a punt when every other play had failed and nobody in the room can come up with anything remotely clever.

This lack of creativity might even be contagious. Sex in advertising has been on a steady rise since the 1980s despite studies that show as many as 60 percent of consumers have a negative reaction to such advertising and women, specifically, are bored and disinterested in sex-infused advertising.

So where is the disconnect? Most people attribute it to the outmoded thinking of male executives who make the decisions and sophomoric creative types who lament that their best years were in college. I see it a bit differently, but only because I know hack creatives take most of their cues from television.

As television has become more titillating, they think advertising should follow suit. The only problem is that they never consider the context. Just because people tune into a sexually explicit show doesn't mean they want their advertisements to feature leering men and objectified women. The setup is done to death.

The push back that anyone who doesn't like it is a prude is banal.

All this isn't to say that sex ought to be excluded from advertising. There are plenty of treatments where it can work provided the creative doesn't eclipse the product. Consumers have a much more positive reason to like sex in advertisements when it's wholesome, sexily sensual, or smartly funny.

Those types of treatments tend to skip the stereotypes as they were defined in the 1980s. Nowadays, sexual liberation isn't defined by someone's tolerance for soft porn, but rather their maturity to see it as clean, consensual, and occasionally clever in its use of innuendo and humor. And unlike movies and television, copywriters and creative directors ought to remember that they have two jobs that fiction writers do not.

Modern advertising not only sells the product, but often holds up a mirror to its audience. So if the audience can't relate to the spot, don't expect them to respond to the product. They're much more likely to critique your ad instead, which is exactly what most people who have seen this ad have done. Hat tip to Geoff Livingston for the topic.

Wednesday, January 21

What To Do When Your Captive Audience Craves Escape

While prevailing marketing and public relations theories believe frequency and duration are among some of the best objectives in communication, car dealerships are learning the limits of a captive audience. According to AutoTrader Dealer Sourcing Studies, customer satisfaction is at its highest within the first 90 minutes on the day of a purchase and then steadily declines. 

Car dealerships that take longer than 2.5 hours to complete the transaction lose out on customer satisfaction. Dealerships saw customer satisfaction dip below average at the 2.5-hour mark. 

In fact, according to a Cox Automotive study, the amount of time it took to complete a purchase has taken the top spot in car buyer frustrations. It beat out negotiations, fair trades, salespeople, and even financing options. People, more than ever before, are equating customer satisfaction to time.

Time has become a priority in reducing customer friction. 

The sentiment isn't confined to car buying. It creeps into every consumer touch point. While email, for example, is still one of the most effective means of delivering content to people, nearly 60 percent of consumers won't read or open an email unless they are certain it contains relevant content.

Facebook has always been sensitive to this issue too. It developed its EdgeRank algorithm with relevancy in mind. How people react to the content you post determines how often and likely they will appear in your news feed. If people ignore or complain about the content, page managers begin to see a diminishing rate of return unless they pay to push their exposure.

That in itself makes for a standalone discussion, but the point for this post is clear: Customers don't want to waste their time. They want relevant on-demand and/or intuitive content, compressed purchasing cycles on everything they buy, and post-purchase communication with an emphasis on multichannel personalization over calendar sales and email spam.

Car buying provides an extreme example for marketers in every industry. 

As part of the cited white paper, Cox Automotive also conducted an in-depth analysis of four distinct dealerships to track actual cycle times across key processes and better understand the disconnect between customer expectations and the dealership experience. What they found is not only enlightening for car dealerships, but also every industry that cares about customer satisfaction.

• Sales Process. The average time it took to complete the vehicle sales process was nearly 53 minutes – more than half the desired ideal total customer cycle time of 90 minutes.

• Purchase Negotiation. It took an average of 21 minutes and a maximum of 41 minutes, making it potentially the most time-consuming variable in the vehicle sales process.

• Vehicle Appraisal Process. The average time it took to complete the appraisal process was 43 minutes, nearly half of the total desired customer cycle time of 90 minutes.

• Appraisal Negotiation. It took an average of 16 minutes and a maximum of 39 minutes, making it a significant time-consuming variable in the appraisal process.

• F&I Process. The average time it took to complete the F&I process was nearly 61 minutes – two-thirds of the desired length of the ideal total customer cycle time of 90 minutes.

• The F&I Paperwork. The process is often lengthened by requiring signatures on multiple paper forms, and filling out these forms took an average of 21 minutes and a maximum of 44 minutes, making it a significant time-consuming variable in the F&I process.

When you add up the amount of time that each process requires (including negotiations), it becomes clear that most car dealerships are unintentionally designed to deliver unsatisfactory experiences that don't meet customer expectations. But before you simply nod in agreement based on your own personal experience, ask yourself if your company is any better.

What steps have you made to ensure promotions are not only relevant, but also efficient in leading customers to a specific point of purchase? How easy is it to find a product, make comparisons, and complete a purchase? How easy is it to place an order on your website (or shopping app)? Has your company minimized any additional steps that elongate the purchasing process? How likely will customers have to re-enter, change, or update stored data for future purchases? Does your company have any appropriate/personalized post-purchase communication planned (without being intrusive)?

Ultimately, the car dealership study provides excellent insight into how time can influence customer satisfaction throughout the car buying process. And, along with that, it creates a framework to help other companies start asking questions about their marketing plans and purchasing cycles too.

The simple truth of it is that customers know their time is too valuable. And since they don't want to be held captive anymore, maybe it's time to invite them in and then let them go. They'll appreciate it.

Wednesday, January 14

Five Qualities That Set Successful Commercial Writers Apart

Not everything poured into the content marketing boom has been beneficial for professional writers. While the boom created increased demand, it was also responsible for the influx of amateur writers and marginally proficient executives (assigned writing duties) who inadvertently cheapened the craft while simultaneously flooding the market with barely legible content.

This isn't a criticism or complaint. It's a fact. There are more people who call themselves writers than ever before and those people are competing for an average rate that is about half of what it was ten years ago. It's more than the market can bear, but that might finally be good news.

As organizations learn that all content is not created equal, more of them will be looking beyond the price point for qualities that set successful writers apart. Here are five. Do you have them?

Five qualities for top writers.

• Invest In First Impressions. David Ogilvy once said that if a print advertisement cost one dollar to produce, then you better spend 80 cents on the headline. This thinking extends to the first sentence too, especially long-form content like articles, brochures, and white papers.

The premise is sound. If you don't capture them with the headline, they won't read it. If you lose people with the first sentence then you've already lost. There isn't any better place to make a great first impression than first line of written content.

• Think Visually. Great writers aren't content with copy alone. It's often their ability to pair strong visual content — which attracts attention across all demographics — with strong words — messages that can be understood by everyone and have an emotional appeal to a specific few — that determines the success of their content.

Even when the message has no visual components, think visually anyway. The reasons bullets, breakout paragraphs, and pullout quotes work is that they lend a visual structure to the prose. Consider it.

• Understand People. Experienced commercial writers know there are three kinds of research. There is market research, big data research and people research. The latter is the most important even if most organizations give it the least amount of attention.

Spend time listening to people. It might be online chats or focus groups or lifestyle interviews or even by visiting a location to observe people at the point of contact, but the end game is always the same. Before writing for an audience, find out their perceptions, motivations, and attitudes.

• Plan Strategically. Creativity has always been an admired trait among copywriters, but being clever alone won't pay the bills. The best writers think strategically, always checking their work to ensure they haven't lost sight of the principal benefit, key public or primary objective.

Generating awareness is a given. You need to focus on the fine points such as generating a favorable emotional disposition, implanting information about key features and benefits, and building brand familiarity, recognition, and recall (among other things) in conjunction with awareness.

• Love The Craft. Great commercial writers have to love the craft so much that they have to possess a passion for writing while voluntarily compromising their sense of self-expression. It's not easy. Not everyone can do it.

You have to write creatively within confined parameters, accounting for everything from the organizational voice to the arbitrary opinions of every stakeholder in the process — clients and creative directors to editors and other random and sometimes unqualified critics who are provided a sneak peak at your work. Suffice to say that some of your best work will never be published.

Do you want to develop these qualities?

If you have an interest in being a better writer or if you would like to brush up on your skills, I teach a half-day Editing & Proofreading Your Work session at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) a few times a year. The next session will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, January 31. It would be great to see you there.

For something even more challenging, I will also teach Writing For Public Relations this spring. The 10-week course has an emphasis on public relations, but anyone who has ever taken it has come out a better writer on the other side of it. All classes run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with first class held Thursday, February 12. Assignments range from articles and press releases to advertisements and online content.

For more topics on writing here, visit the labels "writing" and "words." Many other topics touch on writing too. If you want to catch everything, about once a week, subscribe with a couple of clicks.

Wednesday, January 7

Research Says Social Media Is Slipping Toward The Sidelines

Social media and social networks aren't likely to die to this year or ever.  But there is much more than headline grabs associated with the growing number of articles that claim this or that is losing its luster or that what seems to be a decade old career is already on the chopping block. This story has history.

Radio, television, and web marketing all enjoyed honeymoon periods too as early adopters rode the wave of specialty into the mainstream. All three witnessed a short-term, one generation boom in agencies that specialized in radio advertising, television campaigns, and websites. And all three eventually saw a crash in specialization as marketing and advertising firms absorbed them.

Social media is being absorbed by marketers, communicators, and public relations professionals as a skill set rather than a career. And while it's likely some specialization will survive with increasingly generic titles for categorization purposes at bigger shops and departments (e.g., digital content), smaller shops will merely delegate the duties out to whomever seems suited to do it — to the delight of public relations professionals (perhaps) and chagrin of copywriters (perhaps). Of course, the medium will mostly survive even if the marketing designations do not. Social is not shiny anymore.

Does social media just barely deliver more benefits than consequences?

But then again, it doesn't make any sense to bemoan how marketers see social media. It's the public that counts in this space, not always the ones who are paid to provide content. So what do they think?

According to the newest poll by Harris, participants are seeing more tangible benefits from social media than they had five years ago. In fact, the finding almost comes across as celebratory overall.

• 50 percent of U.S. adults have received a good suggestion to try something (up from 40%).
• 21 percent of Americans cited receiving a job opportunity though social media (up from 15%).
• 11 percent of those surveyed found a new apartment or house using social media (up from 9%).

Not surprisingly, Harris reports that Millennials are more likely than other generations to benefit. The comparative numbers are compelling. There seems to be an advantage for so-called digital natives.

• 66 percent of Millennials received a good suggestion  (vs. 56% Xers, 37% Boomers, 33% Matures).
• 37 percent made a job opportunity connection (vs. 24% Xers, 10% Boomers, 6% Matures).
• 19 percent found a new apartment or home (vs. 11% Xers, 5% Boomers, 2% Matures).

At a glance, it almost sounds like a triumph until you dig deeper into the numbers. While the benefits of social media are improving, the negative experiences are growing right along with them. Look out.

• 51 percent of social media participants have been offended by content (up from 43%).
• 8 percent also say they have gotten into trouble with school or work because of online content.
• 7 percent have lost a potential job opportunity because of pictures or posts they've made online.

And much like Millennials and Generation Xers are more likely to receive benefits, they are more likely to feel some heartache too. Millennials are almost twice as likely to see offensive content than Matures. It's not necessarily just because they have thin skins. The potential correlated to usage.

Along with being offended, bullied, or generally made unhappy by the experience (regardless of platform), privacy confidence is slipping. Fewer people believe that privacy settings will protect them from potentially bad experiences. Some professionals will be surprised (maybe) that 71 percent still cling to this notion, which is down 8 percent.

When you summarize the positive and negative experiences among most participants, the general consensus seems to be that people have a 50-50 benefit-consequence ratio, which is probably one of the lowest benefit-consequence ratios among experiences that people seek out. Generally, consumers would avoid benefit-consequence this low unless the experience is considered mandatory.

Interestingly enough, most strategic communicators have their focus on enhancing customer experience touch points. And in some cases, a few of these senior professionals are looking for touch points by bypassing volatile platforms where consumers are already being influenced by negativity.

That doesn't necessarily mean they intend to abandon social media, but it does provide some insight into why some marketers are looking forward to enchanted objects where they can manage more of the customer experience and provide them outposts away from more lower benefit-consequence experiences. It makes some sense, with the takeaway being that social media is likely due for an overhaul in how it works for organization-customer experiences. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 31

The Top Five Posts Of 2014 Mostly Focused On Writing

If there was any central topic that seemed to attract more people to Words, Concepts, and Strategies that any other this year, it would be writing. Much like many professionals see social media as being flattened — moving away from being seen as a profession and more toward being seen as a skill set employed equally by marketers, public relations professionals, and communicators — more and more of them want writing to be something that everyone can express as a proficiency.

It's possible, perhaps, as long as organizations don't under value those who have dedicated their careers to the craft. You see, it's one thing to write as proficiently as 25 percent of the population but it's another to write as impassioned as only 3 percent of the population. Still, there is something that everyone can do to improve their writing. Dozens of tips are in the top posts of 2014.

The top five posts of 2014, based on readership.

Writing Is A Process
5. Writing Is A Process That Starts Long Before The First Word. Despite recent trends in an attempt to commoditize it, writing requires hard work. In addition to knowing how to string words together so they have a maximum impact with minimal means, writers must master research techniques, organize for structure, edit for clarity, proofread for accuracy, and package the content for better retention.

In addition to highlighting a few of the challenges young writers face today, the piece includes a presentation deck that was created for a private education session about the subject. Everyone wants to become a better writer, but most aren't prepared to put in the work to make it happen.

Ten Questions For Better Writing4. Your Writing Is Almost Never As Good As You Think. Several studies have shown that there is a disparity between how well people think they can write and how well they can write. Despite what students think, only about one in four are proficient writers and less than three precent are great writers.

This article was accompanied by the top ten questions people can ask to assess their own writing abilities. Highlights include some of the most common problems encountered in various professions, especially communication and marketing, on a daily basis. The piece is interlinked with several other articles that provide additional insight and examples.

Social Media Marketing Is Wrong
3. Why Is Marketing Still Wrong About Social Sharing? On the surface, this story is about marketing and social media, but it bridges into other subjects like psychology and written communication. The short version is that the article explains why the over emphasis on measurement, search, and social platforms isn't necessarily a good investment if it is made at the expense of worthwhile content.

The article goes on to highlight five popular drivers behind the psychology of sharing, which seems to have very little to with how most marketers spend their budgets. The piece cuts both ways in showing how value is better than viral and how much content can become a slave to other factors.

Banned Books And What It Means
2. The Elephant In The Room Of Banned Books Is Gray. Rather than submitting a top ten books list for banned books week, the post highlights eight articles that tell stories about why books are being challenged in America today. The real purpose of the piece was to help people see that not all books are being challenged for the reasons one might think or that it is exclusive to one group.

Nowadays, books are challenged and "banned" for all sorts of reasons, many of which read like a snapshot of social issues Americans struggled with that this year. For my part, I don't share my own take on the topic but rather present a few questions that may help people see beyond the obvious.

What Not To Do As A Writer
1. Five Popular Content Writing Tips That Are Dead Wrong. The most popular post of the year pinpoints and dismantles five writing tips that are still being promoted around the web. They include the call for short content, spicing up word choices, rushing the deadline, fluffing facts, and transitioning to more pictures and less written content for the next trend in online marketing.

All of those tips are dead wrong. In fact, most of them can be tied to some of the reasons not everyone is excited to take a chance on content. Nobody really wants to click on an eye-catching visual that tricks them into reading a quickly written paragraph that boasts about some unsubstantiated claim being made by a product or service they don't need or want. Do they?

Happy new year and thanks for helping this space be the exception.

It seems to me that they do not. As part of a two-year experiment (and personal reasons), I opted to write significantly fewer posts (about one a week) that frequently sported higher word counts. The result is that while daily traffic dropped, the average number of readers per article is up (as well as overall readership) compared to the days when this space was a short-format daily.

While there are some other trade-offs (such as weaker reader loyalty on throwaway posts), I've found it to be more fulfilling to pick timeless topics as opposed to a couple of graphs on the topic du jour. And I'm happy to know that some folks have found some value in the topics I've taken up this year.

Thanks for reading and happy new year. And if you want to keep up weekly, subscribe here.

Wednesday, December 24

Yes, You Are Loved. Happy Holidays.

My favorite holiday story has always been the Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. It's the story about a young, impoverished girl attempting to sell matches in the street. She is cold and alone, fearful of going home without a single sale as her father would likely beat her.

She eventually shelters herself in a small alley and lights a match to warm herself. In the glow of it and each match struck after, she sees visions of a feast, a Christmas tree, and eventually her grandmother. And it's with this last vision that the girl begins to light match after match — until all the boxes are ablaze — in a desperate attempt to keep her grandmother with her.

As the blaze dies, so does the girl. And her grandmother, no longer a vision, carries her to heaven. 

The story touched me then, as it does today, not in the beauty of a dying child clinging to hopes and dreams or only in the promise of a life ever after. Much of it had to do with living in a household with a grandmother who was dying of cancer. The story became her promise to me that she would always be there and that one day we would be reunited no matter what might happen in this life. 

A Little Match Girl, Revisited

Barefoot in the snow with blue and frozen toes, 
A match girl strikes a fire to ward away the cold. 
And in the sputter of the flame she seems to see
A stove to warm her hands; the comfort of a tree; 
A roast to heal her hunger; and arms of empathy. 

I wrote the untitled poem a few years ago for a Christmas card. And this year, I revisited my copy of the story to illustrate a scene from it. And on the back of the card, a few might notice the 13:7 verse reference. 

Any book will fit the meaning, but especially Corinthians with its gentle reminder that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things ... love really is all there is and will be.

That is why my grandmother had always impressed this story upon me. She wanted me to know that even after she was gone, her love would carry on with me until the end. There is no greater gift than that.

And yes, you are loved. Happy holidays. Good night and good luck. 
 

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