Posts tagged ‘marketing’

The Moral Dilemma of (RED): What To Do When You Know Your Donations Are Being Stolen

The Associated Press is reporting that as much as two-thirds of some of the grants given out by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria–the charity supported in part by Bono’s (Product) Red initiative–is being pocketed by corrupt government officials. So bad is the situation that Sweden, one of the fund’s largest contributors, is suspending its $85 million annual contribution until the problem is addressed.

The news is unsurprising to anyone who has followed the history of celebrity-backed efforts to ease the misery of Africa. We know, for instance, that the Ethiopian thug Mengistu Haile Mariam swiped millions of dollars donated by western do-gooders at Live Aid and used it to finance the army that was inflicting harm on precisely the people the charity was intended to help. Other examples are legion.

This raises a moral dilemma for brands that participate in (Product) Red. Do they ignore the breathtaking corruption and accept it as the cost of doing business in Africa’s kleptocracies? Can they in good conscience urge consumers to buy products with the promise that part of the profits will go to charity without disclosing that an even larger part of the profits may go to purchasing cars, motorcycles and other playthings for dishonest bureaucrats, as it did in Djibouti (to name but one example)?

There is no doubt that some people have been helped by (Product) Red. Nor is there any question that all decent men and women wish to alleviate the suffering caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The thorny issue is this: Does the charity, by allowing billions of dollars to be stolen, actually prop up the bad governments that are largely responsible for the plight of their people in the first place? How many hospitals have not been built, how many pharmacists have no drugs to dispense because a crooked health minister wanted  a Mercedes-Benz, because a dictator wanted his own Versailles?


January 24, 2011 at 5:38 pm 2 comments

Ten Charmingly Mean-Spirited Quotes on Statistics and Data

Within advertising agencies on five continents, statisticians and data jockeys have made significant progress in their attempts to swathe themselves in the garments of infallibility. Even so, anything more than a cursory glance reveals that their backsides are, just like ours, hanging out and exposed to the same vicissitudes of climate and circumstance.

Occasionally this space is given over to those who have deftly humbled the hubristic ad men of the globe with sharp words. This thrashing we all should endure from time to time as penance for having chosen to worship at so disreputable an altar. Today the space is given over to those who would puncture the brightly colored balloons of statistics and data. I give you ten charmingly mean-spirited quotations that will–it is to be hoped–restore a modicum of–skepticism to the thinking of marketers everywhere:

“An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts–for support rather than for illumination.”  – Andrew Lang

“If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.”  -Ernest Rutherford

“In ancient times they had no statistics so they had to fall back on lies.”  – Stephen Leacock

“Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted.”  – George Gallup

“Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.”  – Colin Powell

“A statistician is a man who comes to the rescue of figures that cannot lie for themselves.”  -Abraham Maslow

“Satan delights equally in statistics and in quoting scripture….”  -H.G. Wells

“The average human has one breast and one testicle.”  -Des McHale

“Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.” – Paul Brodeur

“When I told Jerry that eighty percent of all accidents happen within a mile of the home, he said, “that settles it, we’re moving.” – Barth Gimbel (Martin Mull) recounting a conversation with his sidekick Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard) on Fernwood 2 Night.

August 23, 2010 at 8:35 pm 1 comment

Maybe Your Customers Don’t Want A Relationship With You

"Customer Effort Score" is a better indicator of likelihood to make additional purchases than either Net Promotor Score or Customer Satisfaction.

Much oxygen is wasted inside advertising agencies in this, the age of social media, bloviating about the desirability of using technology to build relationships between brands and consumers. Few stop to ponder the possibility that consumers don’t want a relationship.

This thought, however, has occurred to Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman. They’ve written a provocative article in the Harvard Business Review called “Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers” (sorry, you may have to trade some personal information to read it for free). Their argument, which is backed up with some lovely statistics, is that exceeding the expectations of consumers is not nearly as good a way to increase purchase intent as simply removing the bits from your interaction with them that consumers consider to be an ass-whipping. People don’t need (or even want) to feel all a-tingle every time they come in contact with a brand. They just don’t want to be battered about the head and shoulders–either online or in person–to get something done. The key metric is the Customer Effort Score, which, as you have doubtless already ascertained, measures the energy a consumer has to put into dealing with a company. Lower is better.

If you doubt this, think about how an industry like banking has changed. Technology has made it possible to accomplish almost any banking task at the time and place of our choosing. Convenience used to mean a branch on every corner. Now it means an ATM in every convenience store and an app on every smart phone. I would go so far as to say that any time you have to go inside a bank today, the “relationship,”–such as it is–has failed.

One mistake brands (and their agencies) consistently make is overestimating the importance of the role they play in the lives of consumers. Most brands are bit-players in our life stories–and maybe just extras. That being said, I’m not suggesting that delighting consumers is never a good idea. Sometimes it will be the only idea. But what I am suggesting is that we need to be more discriminating about when and where we do it. Marketing devolves into brute noise when everything we do is calculated to bludgeon with pleasure.

July 13, 2010 at 9:29 pm 1 comment

The Apple iPhone and the elusive image of branded love

Last week as I watched one news report after another showing hundreds of people lined up outside Apple stores across America, all of whom hoped – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say needed – to be among the first to get the new iPhone in their pink, sweaty hands, it occurred to me that this, at least from a corporate standpoint, is what love looks like. These people were willing to suffer for a product in a way that few people in the twenty-first century are willing to suffer for a cause. For a brand, it really doesn’t get any better.*

Very few brands will ever sniff the thin air that surrounds this mountaintop. Nonetheless, it’s important to know it exists because it reminds those of us who toil within advertising’s smoky factories of what what we’re supposed to be trying to achieve. As agencies focus more and more on the arcane sciences of data analysis, ROI measurement and predictive modeling, it’s easy for advertising to begin to feel like something that’s akin to strip-mining. Don’t let it. If you’re doing it right, it’s about love. It’s about generating passion for the brands you work on. It’s about tapping into visceral desire.

So how do you get there? How do you “ladder up” (an odious bit of corporate English) to a more emotional connection between the consumer and the brand? With apologies to the great American philosopher Frank Zappa, I have borrowed and altered slightly a few phrases from a song called “Packard Goose”** (it should be noted that the lyrics owe no small debt to a T.S. Eliot poem called “The Rock”–seriously)  to remind us of our obligation to elevate the brand grist we are given and turn it into something that arouses passion:

Data is not information.

Information is not knowledge.

Knowledge is not wisdom.

Wisdom is not truth.

Truth is not beauty.

Beauty is not love.

Love is the only thing that matters.

When one ponders these words, it’s apparent that they’re a pretty good re-telling of the Apple story. The company has taken  a bunch of ones and zeros and through a bit of sorcery transformed them into products that do extraordinary things – things for which people will leave their loved ones and the comfort of their overstuffed sofas to stand sweating with the faithful in the heat of summer. May the rest of us one day be so lucky.

* For causes, I grant you, it is a bit disheartening.

** You may find Mr. Zappa’s original lyrics here.

June 30, 2010 at 8:17 pm 1 comment

The Destruction of Community and the Rise of the Fan Club

Via the miracle of YouTube, I spent the last hour or so watching a lecture the late Neil Postman gave in 1998 at Calvin College in Michigan. In it he brought up a compelling idea (actually dozens of them, but here I’ll just focus on one) about how technology has changed our definition of community. Traditionally, communities have been united by broad commonalities (e.g., geography, culture, history, etc.) even as the individual members of the communities differed on many particulars. Indeed, the trick of making a community function was for the individual members to find a way to work around their differences and disagreements to create a socially cohesive unit. Take away the negotiation and compromise on the points of difference and the points of commonality would not be strong enough to hold the community together.

Yet when we talk about communities in the age of interactivity, we often mean something very different. More often that not we are referring to a group of people who are in near total agreement on a particular topic. Because technology makes it easy–indeed almost effortless–to create new communities, people who find themselves in any sort of disagreement in an existing community need not work through their differences. They can simply start their own community where they do not have to put up with the annoyance of dissent. This may seem like a dream for a marketer who will benefit from gathering together a group of people who are deeply loyal to a brand, but a community it is not. It is a fan club. (Indeed, in its political incarnation it can become something much more troubling–a walled compound of people who would rather enter into an infinite loop of mutual affirmation than engage in honest and thoughtful debate. Insert your favorite–or least favorite–cable news network here.) Remember that the word fan comes from “fanatic”–a person with extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal.

But my purpose here is not to talk politics; I leave that for a different time and a different blog. In the age of social media, marketers throw around phrases like “online community” as if we all agree on what they mean. I submit to you than we don’t. As more and more brands venture into the interactive space, the ones who succeed will be the ones who are honest with themselves about whether they are looking to create a community or a fan club. Uncritical enthusiasm may seem appealing, but ultimately stronger brands are built on the support of those who see our warts and want to help us heal them.

May 18, 2010 at 3:40 am Leave a comment

Twitter and The Hierarchy of Needs

In “The Tao of Innovation,” which you can find on on, Moses Ma writes that “Understanding the psychology of Twitter as a case study helps innovators learn how to better predict and even invent emerging white space market opportunities.” Quite.

What’s particularly interesting is how Ma takes this relatively new technology and shows how it fits into a a nearly 70-year-old theory on human motivation, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s kind of a nice way for marketers to think about the different roles Twitter can play in the lives of its users. Does it soothe their existential anxiety by reassuring them that they belong to a tribe? Does it, as an essentially narcissistic form of communication, raise their self-esteem? Do they use it to self-actualize? Or something else entirely?

The bottom line: Knowing that your target audience uses Twitter is not an insight. Knowing why they do is.


November 30, 2009 at 3:25 am 2 comments

Want your ad agency’s employees to be smarter? Stop sending them to industry conferences.

Stephen Strong–Global Director of Interactive at Alberto Culver, connoisseur of fine beers, noted bon vivant, poster boy for all that is good and right in America and a reasonably good amigo of mine–has a post on his Platforms Optional blog called “The Ad:Tech Analysis That The Man Doesn’t Want You To Read!” Rather than quoting anything from it, I think I can best sum it up by sharing a Tweet that Stephen sent me from the floor of Ad:Tech in Chicago: 

“This thing [i.e., Ad:Tech] could use a couple bloody lips.”

Let’s be frank about advertising industry conferences. At best they are delightful boondoggles (I’m looking at you, Cannes). At worst, they’re a waste of time. I grant that there is a possibility, albeit remote, that someone somewhere has learned something of value from a speech at Ad:Tech (I say this as a former speaker at the conference). Let us be generous. Maybe even a handful of people have. But in these tough economic times, agencies should be demanding a higher intellectual ROI than conferences deliver. Add up the registration fees, airfares, hotels and meals and you can get into some fairly serious money pretty quickly. This would be OK if not for the fact that most presenters are conferences are ill-prepared, ill-informed, insipid and/or uninteresting. I should note that this is not always their fault. Conference organizers have a bizarre habit of assigning topics to presenters, regardless of whether the topic matches their area of expertise. By way of example, last year at Cannes I was put on a panel about socially responsible advertising–something I  was capable of expounding on after putting in a little study, but definitely not in my wheelhouse. (By the way, there is a special place in hell for the organizer of panel discussions–perhaps the greatest time-waste conceived since the weekly status meeting.)  

I am proposing a radical alternative that I guarantee will build infinitely more intellectual capital for every agency that adopts it, while costing a tiny fraction of what they are now spending to send people to conferences all over North America and the world. And it’s stunningly simple. Build a reading room at your agency–comfy leather chairs, good lighting, no computers or iPhones allowed, lots of signs that say “no talking.” Once you’ve done this, require every single employee to spend at least eight hours per year in it reading books assigned by his or her supervisor. The reading room must be treated as inviolable. Neither client calls nor nastygrams from accounting about incomplete time sheets may be allowed to breach its threshold. Do this and the people who emerge from the room will in every single case be more valuable than the ones who went in.

Funny thing–the people who actually have something worthwhile to say eventually get around to writing it down. The mere act of writing something down almost invariably means it is more thought-out, better argued, and more complete than the alternative we get in spoken form. Proclaiming this is heresy, of course, in the age of the image and presentation. Yet I am not about to argue that image and presentation are unimportant. What I will argue, however, is that the people who have spent time reading, absorbing and learning the wisdom contained in the great books written about advertising over a period of hours (rather than being exposed to lesser thoughts for a matter of minutes) will in every case be better prepared to leverage what they know in their work and share what they know in their own presentations. 

So if your objective is merely to reward your people, keep sending them to conferences in Vegas, Austin or Dubai. But if your objective is to make them better and more valuable, tell them to sit down, shut up and read.

September 3, 2009 at 9:25 pm 1 comment

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