Tuesday, November 3

Racing Ahead: Volkswagen Finds Firemint

Want to entice people to like advertising? There's an app for that.

Volkswagen seems to be hitting a home run in one of the least likely places. While it has six iPhone apps in circulation (three of them related to racing), its partnership with Firemint represents a real win-win for both companies and consumers.

Firemint is the company behind the number one racing game for iTunes apps. While the game was previously riding high with stellar reviews from MobileCrunch, UGO, and the iPhone Games Network, the $6.99 price point and news of some public relations firm inflating expectations made some people hesitate.

Enter Volkswagen.

Volkswagen sponsored the game's free trial, with three tracks and six all-new 2010 GTI sport hatches. Doing so makes a trial version possible, which entices more people to download the game after their test play.

At the same time, it positions the GTI as a sports car (2.0 liter FSI turbo engine), with an MDI with iPod feature that plugs into the touchscreen radio or navigation system. In sum, it helps reintroduce a hipness that the German car company almost lost under Crispin Porter + Bogusky's watch.

Entertaining Ads.

Never mind the debacle that once was Bud.tv. When advertisers match the right marketing with the right media and distribution, entertainment advertising works. The Real Racing app has since soared to the number one download and has created an all-positive buzz up about the brand. As a bonus for Firemint, its paid Real Racing app is currently ranked 29 and climbing.

"With the personalization of media and the challenges inherent with reaching constantly connected consumers, we tasked ourselves to rethink the way we launch vehicles in order to engage our consumers in a meaningful way," said Tim Ellis, vice president of marketing, Volkswagen of America, Inc. "The GTI customer is a tech-savvy consumer who enjoys social networking, playing games and spending time on mobile devices — most often an iPhone."

Even more telling is that while consumers claim they hate advertising, the Real Racing app demonstrates that what the public says and does are two different things. In this case, the launch of the GTI brand added realism to the game without being overly intrusive (despite seeing the Volkswagen brand on every screen).

What's even more interesting is that while most mobile success stories convinced us mobile marketing was all about adding convenience, this app offers up a different perspective. While pizza might be a product of convenience, other products and services might mean something else.

Imagine that. Social media and mobile marketing are situational. Original strategies, not best practice tactics, point the way.

Monday, November 2

Going Local: NAVTEQ Study & Mobile Trends

When it comes to reaching consumers via GPS-enabled location-based advertising, 19 percent of them recalled seeing a specific ad and clicked through to find nearby retail locations. Up to 6 percent also visited a business location after seeing an ad on their GPS device.

This is just one of many compelling findings conducted by Marketing Research Services Inc. and recently released by NAVTEQ, a leading global provider of digital map, traffic, and location data for in-vehicle, portable, wireless and enterprise. It marks a greater trend for marketers to find advertising while they are within a specific proximity of the business and/or while they are making purchasing decisions.

Additional NAVTEQ GPS-enabled location-based advertising study findings that demonstrate impact.

• Seventy-two percent of consumers find the ads to be acceptable on their navigation devices.
• At least 50 percent of respondents recall seeing an ad for each of the advertised brands (aided and unaided).
• At least 19 percent of people who recall seeing a specific ad reported clicking through for information on nearby locations.
• Up to 6 percent of navigation device users visited a business location because of seeing an ad on their navigation device.

"Marketers care about reaching consumers at the moment when they are closest to making a purchase decision," says Nicole Haygood, vice president interactive media director for Draftfcb. "If NAVTEQ's LocationPoint Advertising proves capable of tactfully engaging them near point of purchase through GPS, it will emerge as a desirable option for ad dollars."

GPS-enabled advertising isn't the only consideration for advertisers in an increasingly mobile world.

Consumers are relying heavily on search engines to find what they are looking for. While most might assume that means Google, recent Nielsen research discovered that 27 percent of Google searchers also used Bing at least once in July. Thirty-nine percent also used Yahoo.

"The reality is few consumers limit themselves to a single search engine, and the engine that builds a better mousetrap has the opportunity to make its case to searchers," said Ken Cassar, VP of industry insights for Nielsen Co.'s Online division. "Certainly [Google's] lead is formidable, and I don't see it changing significantly in the near future."

All of this creates a near future that suggests mobile consumers will be able to search for specific products and services, find the closest location with the best prices, and even map a route that avoids traffic. And stores and service providers with top-of-mind awareness and/or engagement via social networks stand to be the biggest beneficiaries.

After all, consumers who already know about your product, service, or business are much more likely to search for it. As long as they are not diverted by competitors or turned away because of poor customer service, they are most likely to search for and shop at places where they feel comfortable. The future of mobile could strengthen that relationship.

Friday, October 30

Balancing Transparency: Social Media And Psychology

"Recruiters shouldn’t care about that Facebook picture of your beer pong game in college." — Shel Holtz, ABC, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology.

Holtz calls the increasing shift toward total transparency a cultural transition, spurred on by social media. And, as a consequence, "Animal House [by Millennials] behavior really shouldn’t matter to hiring managers today."

The communication has sparked an interesting conversation, with Jen Zingheim, Media Bullseye, wondering if "Millenials are perhaps setting themselves up for future problems, because it's hard to put that privacy genie back in the bottle." At the same time, she recognizes that she came from a different era, one that celebrated the separation of professional and personal, work and play.

For my part, I offered up the interesting case study of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, who found their personal and professional worlds collide while working on John Edwards campaign just last year. Holtz said it was apples and oranges.

Is it? Marcotte and McEwan isn't a story about bad behavior. It's a story about merely having publicly conflicting views with the candidate you work for — without bad or illegal behavior. It led to the chastisement of two professionals over nothing more than their own rhetoric. It also marked the beginning of the end for the Edwards campaign.

The consequences present evidence enough. What we do in public is public. Social media can make personal public.

Does this mean Holtz is wrong? Not in the least. This is a conversation with a dynamic that allows two people to be right at the same time in that there is a cultural shift occurring that allows for greater personal and professional crossovers. However, Holtz might be taking one step to far in suggesting that what you share might be exempt from public scrutiny after it's shared publicly.

What we do in public, especially when it includes personal behavior, has always had professional consequences. To think otherwise is saying that the employee who unexpectedly got drunk and put the lampshade on his head at the company party didn't somehow change the perception of the public that was present. Social media expands that public.

In some ways, it might be more hazardous because social media is different from daily relationships as it expands the audience (instead of 50 impressions at a company party, there might be 500 impressions on Facebook).

We might also consider that the online public has a limited engagement. For some in social media settings, they might only see that lampshade on his head, which wouldn't create the impression of someone who had too many. They might only see a drunk. Or maybe an alcoholic. Or maybe something else. It's hard to guess.

In recruitment, it might beg the question: do we hire the drunk or the other guy or gal?

In some cases, it might depend on the corporate culture of the company. In most cases, maybe not. After all, there is a growing feeling that semi-public employees make statements about companies.

And while I may personally agree with Holtz that companies might be going too far (given some use sites like Zillow to evaluate a prospect's real estate), it may be equally irresponsible to suggest to students that what they say or share online ought not to have consequences when it very clearly has consequences, whether you're a student or not.

There are a good number of people who might disagree with me. Many social media professionals and social media authors practice, in varying degrees, total transparency beyond authenticity. However, there is another distinction to be made.

Many of them have already become public figures as de facto public speakers, columnists, and authors. And public figures, based in part on personal branding, follow different rules. Their fans and followers want to know more about them personally, horns or halos.

Where the challenge for everyone else is in that they want some semblance of privacy while operating as a semi-public person in very public forums.

And while I personally do not judge people on their behaviors, opinions, etc., the public most certainly does. Customers do. Constituents do. Colleagues do. People do.

This last weekend, two servers at restaurants shared personal information with me. One was tired because another employee called off after coming down with a severe medical condition and she was working a double shift. Another was tired because they stayed out late the night before, and were nursing a hangover. (Both of them were Baby Boomers, not Millennials, by the way).

I tend to be very personable when I interact with people; they share a lot of information with me. I make it a point not to judge or label them for it either. However, I cannot help but to wonder if a greater population really wants to know. Most people just want personal service without public commentary and introspection by those providing the service.

So whereas Holtz presents an interesting case study for how we are in transition (and we are, all the time, like a pendulum), I lean toward Zingheim's point in that there seems to be some ignorance about the potential consequences of participants who don't filter personal content, especially when the engagement might be confined to a single impression.

Or, in other words, choosing not to consider what people might think about certain behaviors, actions, or ideas is one thing. But expecting people to only affirm those behaviors, actions, or ideas is another all together. Not all such stories will end like David Letterman. Some will end like John Ensign. Are you ready to flip the coin?

Thursday, October 29

Finding Funny: Six Guidelines For Humor In Advertising

Earlier this year, Adam Ferrier, consumer psychologist and a founding partner of Naked Communications, wrote a post that claimed humor in advertising doesn't work. Looking at the recent gaffes by LawFirms.com, Pepsi, and Toyota, we draw a different conclusion. Most advertising humor isn't funny.

“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.” — Oscar Wilde

In truth, there have been scores of studies conducted on humor in advertising over the past 25 years. One of the most famous was conducted by Paul Speck back in 1987. He found that humorous ads increased initial attention, sustained attention, and retention. (You can find his dissertation here.)

Add to this early work: a Clear Channel presentation about outdoor advertising that revealed humor outperformed straightforward by as much as 3:1; most estimates suggest 80 percent of viral success stories include humor; and a new study conducted by Madelijn Strick from the Radboud University in Nijmegen, Holland that concludes comedy is important to have a positive impact on customers. There are hundreds more.

So, if the problem isn't funny, what is the problem with funny? The problem seems to be that funny has to be funny to work. Unfunny, on the other hand, only creates negative impressions. And unfortunately, unfunny is much more commonplace as advertising writers seem to have forgotten that marketing humor doesn't enjoy the same liberties as entertainment writing.

Six Guidelines To Finding Funny For Advertising

The first rule of advertising is that there are no rules. Divergent thinking has always sold and will continue to sell. However, there are guidelines that can help reduce the risk of producing an unfunny campaign that backfires like those mentioned yesterday.

Guideline 1: Funny Is Inclusive, Not Exclusionary
All three backfires have an exclusionary construct. They attempt to be funny at the expense of others. Marketing humor works best when it's inclusive — when we laugh at ourselves or with a group we belong to. (If Motrin made baby carriers, they may have escaped the wrath of angry moms).

Guideline 2: Funny Rolls Uphill, Not Downhill
Two of the backfires make fun of stereotypes that are perceived to be "inferior" to the position of the teller. For advertising, comedy is better positioned to roll uphill. Illegal aliens can make fun of lawyers, but lawyers cannot make fun of Illegal aliens.

Guideline 3: Funny Is Contextual
Context isn't everything, but it always counts. There have been several people making the context case lately, but the idea has been around awhile. The message, medium, and moment are all important when it comes to funny. Two of the backfires miss this idea entirely.

Guideline 4: Funny Is Situational
When people make mistakes, making fun of the mistake might be funny. For example, making fun of United Airlines' mistake is funny. Political gaffes are funny. Big business missteps are funny. However, always keep in mind that what is funny today may not be funny tomorrow. One backfire, for example, tried a joke two years too late.

Guideline 5: Funny Is Relative
When a character that people can relate to becomes the brunt of the joke, it might be funny. That's why marketing that makes fun of office settings tend to work. No one is really singled out, and many of us can relate as an audience. All three backfires never consider their relation to the audience. The humor might make them laugh, but nobody else is really laughing.

Guideline 6: Funny Is About Constraint
Advertising humor also works best when it shows some constraint. If people talk about a joke but cannot remember the product or service, you lose. All three backfires seem to disassociate themselves from the humor. In fact, one backfire does it so well that most of their gags were passed over by consumers. (Nobody really friended their fake MySpace accounts.)

But beyond all that, humorists also need to remember that funny is hard work. Off-the-cuff quips that come up in a creative session seldom make the cut. They have to be worked, reworked, and worked again. That said, here are three five-second solutions that my have played better than what those unfunny writers cooked up (because that's all the time we had).

Legal Advice Without An Argument? There's An App For That. LawFirms.com

Or, related in subject matter. We Won't Chase You For A Change. Immigration Advice. LawFirms.com

Lesson: Making fun of clients is not funny. Making fun of your profession might be funny.

Play A Prank On Toyota. The Matrix

Lesson: A car company playing pranks on people is not funny. Playing pranks on a car company might be funny.

Life's Too Short. Amp Up When They Shoot You Down. Pepsi

Lesson: Taking advantage of a nerdy girl is not funny. Being shot down by one might be funny.

Get it? Sure, humor is subjective, which is why it can be risky. But when writers consider a few simple guidelines, smart and unexpected humor in advertising can potentially be successful, sustainable, and have a shot at going viral.

Wednesday, October 28

Failing At Funny: LawFirms.com, Pepsi, and Toyota

In the quest for attention, it seems more and more marketing teams are opting into comedic routines. And, more and more, most of them are only creating their own public relations nightmares. Here are three recent favorites before an explanation that pinpoints why advertisers seem to be missing the mark.

Lawfirms.com Yanks Ad That Jabs At Illegal Immigration

LawFirms.com recently created an ad for a fictitious iPhone “app” ad called iCoyote. The app supposedly packed “all of the features of a real immigrant smuggler into the iPhone. Using GPS, navigate through the patrol packed desert without worrying about that pesky Border Patrol.”

After the ad earned attention from Adam Ostrow at Mashable, the creative that was attributed to "the tasteless sense of humor of two employees that are likely to be fired” was taken down. In its place, Lawfirms.com posted a half-hearted apology.

We regret posting the iCoyote social media experiment. Obviously, this campaign did not hit the mark and we apologize to anyone who was offended by the content. Our mission is to help consumers find legal information, and if necessary, with legal counsel and we're continually striving to find creative ways to introduce people to LawFirms.com.

Toyota Earns Negative Impressions Over Lawsuit

Toyota, with some help from ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, hit "publicity pay dirt" after its faux-stalker campaign landed the company in a lawsuit. Right. It seems someone forgot to tell Amber Duick that she had agreed to be the brunt of the joke as she believed someone really was stalking her.

The prank, covered by Techdirt and the Consumerist, may cost the company as much as $10 million after Duick "had difficulty eating, sleeping and going to work" because she believed a "lunatic" stranger was planning to visit.

According to the coverage, she even received a bill from a hotel that the stranger supposedly "trashed." So far, Toyota is standing firm on its commitment to comedy, saying Duick opted in via a disclaimer.

That excuse is about as funny as hiding evidence from plaintiffs in cases stemming from highway deaths and injuries across the U.S.

Pepsi Pushes Feminist Buttons Over iPhone App

Another "app" accident (and this one is real) comes from the same people who approved the defacing of the Tropicana brand. PepsiCo Inc. promised to help men "score" with two dozen stereotypes of women. The apps give participants pickup lines and a scoreboard. Well, sort of.

Nancy Johnston, columnist for The Baltimore Sun, hit upon some of the "humorous" anecdotes in her column: "Meet a girl who's gone through a bad breakup? Pepsi will help you find an ice cream parlor to take her to, so she feels you really care. Want to convince twin sisters to get a little romantic (and incestuous)? The application thoughtfully supplies groin, hip and back exercises, so you don't pull any muscles during your conquest."

Pepsi has since apologized, but the apology seems to have picked up on the pat "poke fun at yourself" exercise that has crept into the public relations playbook. The apology reads: "Amp tweeted, “Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback” and then adds its own “pepsifail” hashtag (#).

So What Have Advertisers Forgotten About Funny?

There is no question that "funny" ads attract more attention than straightforward advertising. When done right, consumers forget the pitch and then run off to share the punchline with family and friends. I even have a few studies for students that reveal funny can increase retention and response rates by as much as 300 percent over not-funny advertisements.

So what's going wrong?

Some claim that Americans are losing their sense of humor. There is certainly some truth to the theory, and anyone can make an adequate case (I've even made this case in past case studies). However, the real culprit isn't the public. The real failure seems to be too much cheap shot comedy.

Cheap shot comedy includes all those lovable little quips that occur all the time in entertainment. It's top of mind and off the cuff that is funny in the moment or given a specific situation. Otherwise, it wouldn't be funny at all.

Stand-up comedians and late night talk show hosts rely on an ample supply of cheap shot comedy. And, some of it works in sitcoms too, because the context is expansive and fictional. So why doesn't it work for advertisers?

Since companies are not comedians and advertising is more contextually inclusive than situational, writing funny advertisements seldom includes shooting from the hip. In fact, most funny lines bounced around during a creative brainstorming session are supposed to be burned up and forgotten because they are not funny outside the moment.

Don't misunderstand me. Humor works for advertising. It's also hard work. Hard enough that you'll have to come back tomorrow if you want some tips in how to make it work. I might toss up a few solutions for the three "funny fail" ads above or I might make fun of them instead. I haven't decided.

Tuesday, October 27

Pitching Wind: Public Relations

"The traditional one-way media model has definitely had its day. So agencies are talking to clients about these engagement models much more." — Sam Lucas, chair of Burson-Marsteller to Adweek.

With consistency, public relations practitioners, even those who shrugged off social media earlier, are giving up on pitches and turning toward directly engaging consumers through original content they and their agencies are creating. And why not?

Diminishing Circulation Feeds Social Media For Now

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, 379 remaining daily newspapers had a total circulation of 30.4 million, down 10 percent since April. Sunday papers were not exempt. Of 563 daily newspapers, circulation had dropped to 40 million, down 7.49 percent. Magazines don't fare much better.

However, reactionary planning might backfire in the long run. Mark Hass, CEO and partner of MH Group Communications, who told Adweek that traditional media is a lot less important than it used to be, might be describing an accurate view of media today. But what about tomorrow?

The papers that remain, especially those that are moving to electronic platforms, will still be there tomorrow. One recent study shows that print publishers are very keen on the next step in distribution. And that distribution model will one day be mobile.

• More than 80 percent of newspaper and magazine publishers believe people will rely more heavily on mobile devices as a primary information source in the next three years.

• Nearly 70 percent of respondents agree that mobile is receiving more attention at their publications this year than last. More than a third believe their publication already has a well-developed plan for attacking and conquering the mobile market.

• Forty-four percent of respondents who track mobile’s impact on their Web site traffic said the devices increased visits by up to 10 percent today. Half believe mobile traffic to their Web sites will increase by 5 to 25 percent in the next two years.

If publishers diminish the cost of print (despite the majority of publishers wanting a print-electronic solution) and readers overcome mobile setbacks, some publications may flourish.

Restructuring Public Relations Firms May Diminish Their Value

Not always, but often, the pubic relations industry was commanding higher retainers than social media. So firms that throw too far into social media may diminish their own value as their media relations function becomes devalued over time. Worse for them, an overemphasis on direct-to-consumer communication, which was typically seen as a function of marketing, could seriously shift the practice toward astroturf or content resembling the modern press release (most of which are unreadable).

At the same time, newspapers that do survive and adapt with better mobile solutions may develop very different relations around public relations, thereby cutting out what some journalists consider client-side gatekeepers. And in some cases, journalists who work for re-emerging news teams might even remember which public relations practitioners kept the lines of communication open and which did not.

When you add it all up, the trends suggest an increasing need for an integrated team approach over attempts to control communication and marketing budgets. Simply put, public relations cannot afford to diminish the value of media relations to the point of alienation. After all, media isn't dying as much as it is being restructured. So what to do?

Consider the core functions of each discipline. Social media tends to work best in delivering customer-centric content (sometimes with a customer service overlap). Marketing and advertising work best in focusing on prospect-centric demand creation. And public relations tends to work best in reaching publics beyond the customer. Sure, overlaps exist around every corner, but recognizing priorities is still important.

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