Why it (begrudgingly) Makes Sense to Interrupt my Online Simpsons snippets

You may have heard that the up-and-coming advertising venue is on-line TV programing.Or you may have just been watching 30 Rock online (during your lunch break, natch) and noticed the mandatory commercials.

As Ian Paul points out in PC World, advertising on an Internet site such as Hulu, where viewers watch their favorite shows on their own schedule, can be more effective than traditional TV methods. Because viewers actively seek the show, they are more willing to sit through a commercial here and there, being unable to simply flip to another channel during the break.  Hulu is certainly aware of this advantage. The site currently charges more for an advertising spot during The Simpsons than Fox does. But there are some points other than higher costs that you should consider before you start buying into on-line TV advertising.

First, this venue is only for national (or international) corporations and markets. This may seem obvious, but a hometown ice cream company is better off advertising on local cable, where it can address a specific clientèle, than on Internet, which has an audience unlimited by geography and uninterested in a business that is.

Paul also points out that, while the online TV audience is broad, it is also small. Only about seven and a half million people watched the entire March Madness online this year; add ten million and you get the number of traditional TV-watchers for the single NCAA basketball tournament. This is a huge difference. The numbers may change in the next few years, especially as people learn to hook the Internet up to their new plasma and HD television sets, but for now the online TV market is a toddler.

Like with any advertising, before you buy a spot on Hulu or TV.com, know your audience. At the moment, it looks like traditional TV is the way to go for most of us. And don’t forget that consulting a PR  specialist could easily save you money and time when it comes to finding the marketing niche that’s right for you.

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Stolen Identities

A recent NY Times article brought to light a controversial issue with popular search engine, Google. Google is great for so many reasons, but with Google AdWords, you can sideswipe the competition by entering a competitor’s name and each time a potential client searches for your rival, Google AdWords makes it possible for your company’s name to come in above your competitor’s. A software company in Texas has filed a class action suit against Google alleging trademark infringement. With the ability to hijack a competitor’s brand, name, logo etc, companies all over are reaping the benefits of another’s hardwork. While the Google AdWords is a great idea and useful tool, many are just not using the advertising method responsibly.

The responsible professional would carve out his or her own niche in the market, and not try to cheat to infringe on someone else’s brand. Technology makes life and business easier, and who isn’t looking for an easier way to operate? However, this sort of desperate attempt is just wrong.

While it’s smart to use Google’s tools for advertising, because they are effective and relatively inexpensive, do so truthfully. The worst thing you can do to your brand is take away its credibility. In the long run, that never works. If you’re trying to be something you aren’t it only ends up biting you in the end.

“Mine: My Magazine, My Way”–Media Takes Another Turn Toward the Specialized

I just got my first issue of “Mine” magazine today and I’m really excited! No, it’s not a new publication about being possessive or consumerist or anything—it’s actually a “sampler” of about eight magazines that I chose (this issue: Real Simple, Food & Wine, InStyle, Money, Time, Travel + Leisure and a mistakenly thrown in Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine). Instead of having to purchase and page through these publications individually, I can now get a little taste of each one with about three articles per magazine.

Just like the thousands of individual special interest blogging communities popping up everywhere, this is just another example of how media is tailoring a tighter fit to their most loyal followers, specializing and fragmenting audiences into smaller and smaller subgroups. Of course, general interest mediums like the already suffering newspaper industry would argue against this growing trend, but boundless opportunities exist for specialty magazines, topic blogs and other very content-focused mediums. However much it may take away from traditional advertising practices and journalistic work ethics, I can’t help thinking as a consumer chasing more information about a broad range of topics in less time that “Mine Magazine” is a great idea. That may be what media is all about soon, as the audience directs the force and scope of specialization and fragmentation.

The weirdest part, though, is probably the same exact reason why this idea will fly with these publications’ individual advertisers: the whole thing is brought to you by Lexus. There are no other ads shown in the magazine, so Lexus basically sponsors the whole publication and achieves the same effect as placing individual ads in each magazine for probably half the cost. It’s a win-win for the type of advertising that can afford these individual nationally distributed publications, anyway. On a smaller scale, this probably would push smaller businesses out of the running in an unfair way, but for now, at this stretch in media’s development, I’m not complaining!

Ode to Snuggie: Re-Inventing the Robe With Advertising

We’ve all seen it. We’ve all cursed it, ridiculed it and since forgotten it. But the infamous Snuggie commercials tell an interesting story about marketing and advertising: sometimes an entire product is “invented” on the assumption of our pliability as consumers, our inability to see through sheer marketing and our immediate buy-reaction when infomercials create a new need for us.

Not so fast, Snuggie. You didn’t fool us. Even the least savvy couch potato knows what Youtube videographers call “instructions for putting a robe on backwards” is not ingenious, not new and above all not a necessity. Your monk-like blankets scream “join the cult!” rather than “sit outside at winter sporting events and inside cold houses in style.”

But wait — these things are actually selling. And beating competitors in the same exact market. The “slanket” was the original blanket with sleeves, like the Snuggie in almost every way, except for one fatal flaw. Either the lack of persistence or persuasiveness in their advertising and marketing left their sales slumping. When products as silly as Snuggies and slankets can make it big, you know marketing and ad campaigns are truly effective, transcending both the ridiculous nature of the product and convincing consumers it is truly a must-buy. So, in truth, we have to hand it to Snuggie, a testament to the mystery of marketing!

Free Advertising: What PR Gets You For Half-Price

Sure, advertising is effective for some goods and services. It permeates everything we read in the news, watch on television or even glance toward driving down the highway. It bonks us over the head with messages about products, services and company images until we submit to buying or simply recognize the brand, so advertising proponents say. But to small businesses owners, advertising often becomes the enemy, a foe that pulls you in with its track record but slaps you on the wrist with its price tag.

Stop, step back and breathe. We have a solution. Free advertising? Not exactly but pretty much. There’s no getting around this one either—public relations is a slippery subject. On the one hand, Andrew Cohen and Scott McClellan may sum up PR as chop full of flacks, but as with every profession, undue criticism creeps up every now and then. On most days and in most firms, though, we are a class of credibility-boosters, sales-increasers, newsmakers and certainly budget-cutters. How? We do something advertising could never do and for half the cost: establish your business as an industry expert in respected publications. “Free advertising” aside, you get an added bonus: third-party credibility. Anyone can run an ad. Only key players get published. Here are the requirements:
1) Actual industry expertise. This one’s not a toughie—everyone is an expert at something. That’s why you’re in business, right?
2) A public relations firm that fits. Shop around until you find someone who meets your needs. We specialize in tailor-fit PR for growing businesses, and know the local and regional media like the back of our hands. But if you’re looking to hit a small market really hard, like let’s say, Kalamazoo, Michigan, a local PR firm might be the best route.
3) Unflinching commitment. To get that full-page spread or glowing blurb about your company, advertising isn’t the only fool-proof method.
4) Leftover ad dollars. All right, so everyone knows that nothing is 100% free. While the cost of the average PR push is 1/58 of an advertising campaign (according to The Fall of Advertising by Alan & Laura Ries), most practitioners charge an hourly fee. Calm down—think about it like this. Paying an experienced professional for a few hours to write, distribute and publish a press release pales in comparison to funding a full-page ad, not to mention design and printing costs.

So, here’s the bottom line for your bottom line: PR pays. Your customers (current and future) read an article about you and think “Wow, they really know their stuff.” It may seem like “free advertising” to you, but to the naked eye, it’s credibility, respectability and industry expertise—isn’t that what you ultimately want to convey? We dare you to try it!

"South Carolina is So Gay"?

Imagine seeing a Columbia bus station ad touting London’s welcoming culture for southern Christian conservatives. Sound unlikely? How about a London subway ad reading “South Carolina is So Gay”? That one’s real—the recent campaign, which promotes South Carolina’s gay beaches (there aren’t any) ran in conjunction with London’s gay pride parade a few weeks ago. Quicker than you could quote the Bible, activists whipped up a mighty protest against the ad, which had been approved by SC Parks, Reaction and Tourism and promptly de-funded by Governor Sanford.

From a marketing standpoint, this ad ignores a boatload of basic principles. Number one: know your audience. That doesn’t just mean the target audience you’re selling to, but also your periphery audiences who will hear about your ad and be affected by it, either personally or as a whole. In this case, Australian gay tourism marketers OutNow Consulting crafted the ad looking into only one kind of climate (sunny blue skies rather social norms), leaving South Carolinian government, gays and the general public in a tough spot. What is everyone left to make of this? Government says the “use of public advertising money to promote a social agenda was inappropriate.” SC Pride says “We wanted to clear the air and do the right thing and pay off the debt [the $5,000 ad expense].” And the jury is still out on the majority of SC.

While it’s honorable that SC Pride is stepping up to ease the conflict, the real culprit is sitting pretty in the outback. OutNow Consulting’s second marketing faux pas? False advertising. South Carolina aims to project unbiased Southern hospitality—pinning that down as targeted toward any certain group would be inaccurate. Furthermore, marketing the state as anything other than a beautiful place that welcomes everyone would be a sizeable embellishment, one that would probably decrease South Carolina’s $10 billion tourism industry, which is bolstered yearly by gay travel.

To see S.C. native Stephen Colbert’s take on the ad, click here.

New Coke Commercial: Redefining “Slimy” Advertising

I’m a little disappointed that a company known for its wholesome advertising that cements its brand worldwide has stooped to a slimy low. No, it’s not sleazy or sexy—it’s spitty. A new television ad series for Coke Zero features some wayward tongues (which speak in brutish British accents) and a lone eyeball that apparently hails from France. As the two tongues tag team a sloshing bottle of Coke Zero to lap up its calorie-reduced contents, the eyeball leaves his post on a computer monitor and pushes his spindly, bird-like, eyelash-fiber legs over to the pair. Berating them for believing the drink is regular Coke (since the tongues lack his ocular omniscience), the eye inadvertently attests to Coke Zero’s amazing ability to taste like the good stuff. The oral duo ceases their Coke enjoyment and each tongue begins bashing poor little eyeball for having no sense of taste (or the accompanying appendages to achieve it), with Coke particles sliding off their slippery silhouettes and their teeth-hooved gum-legs firmly planted.

Though many elements of this commercial don’t jive, there is one that begs the question: why? Why, of all advertising ploys, would unappetizing, slightly swollen tongues and a garish little eyeball want me want to try Coke Zero? All I can think of now when I see one is saliva and conjunctivitis. Also, how do the foreign accents contribute to the overall brand appeal? By establishing that body parts who aren’t even of the same nationality, much less the same body, can enjoy Coke Zero? That’s a quite a warped interpretation of Coca Cola’s previous advertising premise: multicultural, worldwide enjoyment of a well-established brand.

I guess Coca-Cola is trying to cash in on the craze of off-kilter, have-to-youtube-it advertising. We’ll see what this ad boosts more: web views or actual sales.

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