Category Archives: Marketing

Minivans Will Make a Comeback (and not because of the advertising)

My coworker Sara Sarasohn tipped me off to Toyota’s hilarious and self-deprecating commercial for the Sienna minivan. Shot in the style of a hip-hop video, two late-30’s parents rap about bake sales and tea parties.

I think the minivan is poised to reemerge — but first a bit of history.

Minivans became the vehicle-of-choice among suburban families beginning in the late 1980s, when they unseated the then dominant family vehicle, the station wagon. (If you’re too young to remember family wagons, you may have seen them in movies). The minivan’s layout provided more passenger and cargo room in a shorter length vehicle. They were easier to park, load and unload, were often safer, and had better gas mileage than their large engine predecessors.

The emergence of the SUV or “sport” utility vehicle precipitated the end of the minivan era. At some point in the late 90’s, a minivan dad was stopped at a redlight. He peered at the SUV in the adjacent lane and wondered “can you put a carseat in one of those?”.

Ironically, a lot of used minivans were snapped up by outdoor enthusiasts seeking a practical vehicle. Paddlers, mountain bikers, and climbers found they offered tons of room for gear and you could even live out of them.

Minivans will come back into the mainstream because my generation is having kids and that’s what we remember riding in.  I expect to see a lot more modern amenities added to minivans, but they’ll be more modest and design-conscious than the ginormous-everything features of SUVs.

We Gen-Xers have hung on to our cynicism but have also become more pragmatic. Even if — like every generation — we’re becoming everything we said we wouldn’t, we’ll appreciate that Toyota is keeping us honest about it. We mocked our nuclear-family origins and the minivans we grew up riding in. But we’ve seen the alternative, and we’re not going there.

Crowdsourcing Brand Identity with BrandTags

Jen’s friend Christine alerted us to a fascinating and highly-addictive website called brand tags. The concept is simple: the site shows you a familiar brand logo and you type the single word or short phrase that comes to mind when you see the logo.

The site is a social tagging experiment, and it aggregates all of the phrases for each brand into a tag cloud. (For those unfamiliar with a tag cloud, it’s a way of visually showing the prevalence of a certain tag. The more often a brand phrase is tagged by users, the larger it appears in the cloud.) The site is a side-project of a marketer, and in his blog he reports that he received over 600,000 tags in the first 2 weeks.

NPR: Awesome AND Boring

What first comes to mind when the masses think of NPR?

NPR’s brand tag cloud.
High recognition and a lot of favorable brand attributes, such as “intelligent”, “smart”, “honest”, “good”. We also have some negatives: “boring”, “stodgy”, “old”, “who?”. There are some misperceptions to overcome, such as “liberal”. And let’s not forget “schwetty balls”, the legacy of a very memorable Alec Baldwin SNL skit.

What about Taco Bell’s brand tag cloud?
As khopper said on Twitter:

The largest brand associations with Taco Bell, after CHEAP FAST MEXICAN FOOD appear to be CHIHUAHUA and DIARRHEA – yikes!

Comments? What did the masses say about some of your favorite brands?

Facebook’s Silent Revolution with Sponsored Ads

Amid all the outcry over Beacon’s privacy concerns, (like having Facebook tell your wife what she’s getting for Christmas) the simple brilliance of Facebook’s on-site advertising is going unnoticed. Here’s a personal account of how Facebook’s relatively straightforward “sponsored messages” are finally making personalized word-of-mouth a reality.

In addition to banner ads, Facebook now features sponsored advertiser messages in their homepage feed. I rarely look at them, but like all ads you unconsciously take them in with a glance. I decided to click on one that was a new Apple video ad lampooning Vista. Funny and so true. As an XP user who purposely avoided Vista, the message was relevant. It wasn’t going to make me rush out to a Mac store, but I did click the integrated link to post it to my Facebook profile because surely someone else would think it was funny. What followed was a debate with three Facebook friends who were silent Mac advocates. My conversations with them also spurred 2 offline conversations (which I alluded to in a comment posting on that Facebook thread.)

Word-of-mouth on product review sites and bulletin boards is nothing new. Likewise, I could always get a word of mouth reco on any product when I ask someone in my offline (or online network). But this was different because I didn’t intend to start a conversation. I wasn’t seeking an opinion. In this case, the advertiser (Apple) planted the seed and what ensued was an awakening of mac advocates who were people in my closed personal/professional network; these are people I trust far more than any expert on CNET and more than the aggregated opinions of hundreds of reviewers on Amazon. I could also have received this video by email, but it wouldn’t have spurred the same interaction that a small Facebook Thread captured (and preserved) for all of my network to see. Not to mention the analytics that Facebook or Apple could get from this episode.

Here are some guesses at what an advertiser might be allowed to see in the analytics, in order of increasing value.

  • Impressions: number of people who might have seen the ad blurb because it was on their feed page
  • Video Views: Number of started/completed views of the mac commercial
  • Number of forwards to friends
  • Number of adds to profiles
  • Number of viral views (forwarded link views plus views after posting to profile)
  • Number of discussion comments
  • View actual discussion comments (tone/subject of the discussion)

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Getting ready for eMetrics

Washington D.C.’s web community has an amazing breadth and depth of talent. The eMetrics Online Marketing Summit rolls into town next Monday, and I’ll have the honor of moderating one of the speaker panels alongside some very remarkable members of the D.C. community, including Phil Kemelor, Julie Perlmutter, and Ann Poritzky. Should be an exciting week…

In the near future, I’ll also be working with both the public sector and social media sections of the Web Analytics Association.

Oreo Cookie Pizza and Weight Loss

When advertisers place an ad — a tv, print, radio, or online spot — they try to place it in a program or publication where their core customer group is likely to see it. If you’re watching the Masters, you’ll see a lot of commercials for golf clubs, balls, and any product/service that Tiger happens to endorse.

While watching the season premier of “the Biggest Loser” the other night, I saw a lot of targeted ads for weight loss programs and low-calorie foods. I also saw this one for the Dominos Oreo Cookie Pizza. Mmmm… gross.

I actually loved the dry humor of this ad. But even if I’d had any inclination to eat a box of Oreos drizzled with icing (not a chance of that), the visuals turned my stomach. I suspect most viewers will have the same reaction.

Nowadays, a lot of ads garner attention, but they don’t always help sell the product. As in this case, good creative might even detract from the product.

Given all the recent attention paid to obesity and diabetes, I also thought the placement was in very poor taste. The spot actually played right around the time on the show when the trainers presented tables of high fat, high sugar processed snacks and called them “poison.” Nice timing Dominos.

Javaun’s Disclaimer: I watch TV maybe twice a month, and I just happened to get stuck on the Biggest Loser. What can I say, I’m a sucker for the overcoming adversity stuff.

How Google and Matt Cutts make the internet useful

Last week, Jen and I had dinner with our friends Sarah, Matt, and Sarah’s parents. Sarah’s father Roger is a mathematics professor in Morehead, Kentucky and has a keen interest in computers. As we loaded the dishwasher, he asked me a bit about the work I’ve done in development and interactive marketing. He then started to tell me about a friend’s son who was highly regarded in his field. Roger began by stating that this individual was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina but left before completing his PhD.

I cut him off mid-sentence. “Are you talking about Matt Cutts?”, I asked. Roger beamed in affirmation.

I would venture to say that anyone working in search engine marketing has probably heard of Matt Cutts, and if your search marketing team hasn’t, you might want to hire someone else. Matt is a senior engineer at Google and is in charge of web spam: preventing it, not creating it. Matt joined Google very early in the company’s history and has helped it develop and continually refine its search algorithm. So how has this changed your life and what’s an algorithm?

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3 Year olds Prefer McDonald’s

Time Magazine is reporting a new study by Stanford researchers that states that kids age 3-5 statistically prefer a hamburger when it appears in a McDonald’s wrapper versus the exact same hamburger when it appears in plain packaging. Time’s argument goes that more regulation is required to protect children from the influence of corporate advertising.

On average, 48% of the kids said they preferred the taste of the McDonald’s labeled hamburger, compared with 37% who preferred the unmarked burger; 59% liked the McDonald’s branded chicken nuggets compared with 18% for the unbranded nuggets, and 77% said the French fries in the bag stamped with the McDonald’s arches and a smile tasted better than the fries from a plain white bag.

I do not doubt any of the Stanford study’s findings, and I do agree that children deserve extra protection from advertising’s influence. However, it’s not just the kids who are being influenced. I’m willing to bet that if you duplicated this study against any demographic having a positive or neutral impression of McDonald’s, McDonald’s will always beat the the plain packaging.

In Chapter 5 of Blink, Macolm Gladwell recounts brand marketers’ experimentations with packaging for margarine, soft drinks, and brandy and how the right package boosts perceived quality of the actual food items:

Cheskin was convinced that when people give and assessment of something they might buy in a supermarket or a department store, without realizing it, they transfer sensations or impressions that they have about the packaging of the product to the product itself… The product is the package and the product combined.

Advertising is about spinning a story, selling a dream, or appealing to our natural urges. For kids and parents alike, these are areas of great susceptibility.

Honor System Yard Sale: Can You Trust Your Neighbors?

How honest are your neighbors? Jen and I were forced into relying on their integrity, and we were pleasantly surprised.

On July 4, we’d advertised a yard sale on Craigslist to get ready for our move to D.C. I was stationed conspicuously in a lawn chair, still in a hard cast and quite immobile. I was the best person for the job both because I couldn’t actually do anything besides collect money and also because I elicited a lot of sympathy purchases.

Then, Jen cut her right knee very deeply while trying to move a huge mirror downstairs to the sale table. (In a lapse of reason, we both thought it was a dreadfully bad idea that she was trying to move a 30 pound mirror that was nearly as tall as she was, yet didn’t vocalize it.)

We had to make a dash for the emergency clinic for stitches. At the same time, we had to get rid of our yard sale items one way or another. Jen wrote out a sign on a large piece of cardboard:

Clothes and Books 50 cents Each. All other items $1. Leave money in mailbox.

Jen surveys the Yard Sale Progress

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Target Unveils New Mixed Media Billboard Ad

Marketers are working harder than every to capture our attention. A few years ago, a campaign promoting the remake of the King Kong movie put an enormous billboard cutout of King Kong climbing the side of a building in New York. If you sent a text message to a certain number, King Kong’s eyes would blink. Though the technology was rudimentary, this campaign created a lot of guerilla (not “gorilla”) buzz and thousands of passers-by stopped to briefly interact with the billboard.

When I got off Marta at the Candler Park station today, I saw a billboard for a new R&B compilation called “Platinum Tracks,” which is available exclusively at Target Stores. The billboard features an earphone jack, and I actually plugged in my headphones to hear a preview of the album.

While this billboard will no doubt create a lot of buzz, it goes a step further and actually demo’s the product. And the placement is perfect. Marta riders have a lot of time between trains, and iPods and portable CD players are ubiquitous, so there’s no shortage of people with headphones. The Edgewood Target store is only a 10 minute walk from the Candler Park station.

Great example of a billboard that captures our attention, and once it does, it actually has something valuable to share.

Platinum Stacks by Def Jam Records and producer L.A. Reid.

Live Free or Die Hard: best Die Hard since the original

Everything I’ve learned about terror attacks, I’ve learned from watching the Die Hard franchise.

I know that when terrorists perpetrate elaborately orchestrated attacks on the U.S., they can expect a few things. First, there will be some bureaucrat in charge of the local PD or federal law enforcement agency who will initially respond arrogantly in the face of overwhelming cicumstantial evidence and deny to take any actions which might easily and immediately halt the terror attack. Thank God for that, because if these guys did have any common sense early on, they’d extinguish the terror plot and we’d be left without a Bruce Willis movie. Clearly though, we can’t count on any of the people who are supposed to protect us to be the first line of defense.

The terrorists also know this, and it allows their schemes to unfold in highly dramatic waves of attack. First, send an unmistakable warning, which will be mistaken. Next, knock out the authorities’ infrastructure. At this point, the good guys will scramble to actions which play into the hands of the bad guys. Terrorists also always have an inside man or former employee of whatever agency is investigating them. Finally, as terrorists’ actions become increasingly ruthless and they show complete disregard for human life, we ultimately find out that all terrorists are motivated by money, not ideology or power. The one comfort that keeps us all from heading to doomsday bunkers in Montana is that terrorists never plan on a tough guy falling into the wrong place at the wrong time.

And so we enter the fourth (or is it fifth) movie in the Die Hard series. Formula aside, I think I enjoyed this Die Hard almost as much as the original. It doesn’t have the raw edge, shock value, or desperation that the first one had, but this might have been the most entertaining. The script is faithful to John McClain’s character without spewing too many catchphrases (although you’ll find one or two familiar ones), and it shows a pleasant evolution. All in all I can say that I would go see a lot more sequels if all of them were this good.


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