Monday, November 23, 2009

Black Friday: Check fine print, beware of zombies.

A CNNMoney story by Parija B. Kavilanz conveys a Black Friday reality check – that of the hordes of pre-dawn shoppers who line up for hours outside stores on the day after Thanksgiving, most will not score those incredible bargains advertised in the circulars.

Now I know it seems like I’m always bashing the retailers, but they are such an easy target. When are they going to stop being their own worst enemy?

Retail experts quoted in Kavilanz’s story and others agree that advertising items as “limited quantity doorbusters” is bad for business, and I think that’s right in many ways. First, many of the deals advertised will not result in consumers getting the deal they think they’re getting. In consumer electronics, for example, where the term “buyer beware” was invented, retailers advertise big flat screen TVs at incredibly low prices. The experts say that’s because they offer “derivatives" - models that have a few less features than a standard model in that manufacturer’s product line. Less features? Then I guess you didn’t get the $1,200 TV for $799, did you? Is it cheating? Not if it’s a different model than the $1,200 unit. The motto is – be a smart consumer. You wouldn’t give a second look to that "no money down, incredible low monthly payment" offer in the car dealer’s ad without checking the fine print at the bottom of the page, would you? Keep your eyes wide open, pay attention to those model numbers and specs, and don’t take anything for granted.

Here’s another thing. The American consumer has been conditioned to go completely insane on the day after Thanksgiving. Kind of like the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead” but without that flesh-eating thing. Again, the retail consultants say this is a no-win situation for the retailers who hope to rebalance their books on that day. It’s also proven to be quite dangerous. A stampede at a Wal-Mart store in New York last year on Black Friday led to an employee's death. Burt Flickinger, managing director of consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, said, "The stampede happened because so many of the deals were advertised as limited supply." I think that statement is half right, Burt. Maybe another reason for the stampede is that a large number of consumers allowed themselves to get so caught up in that “get ‘em while supplies last” mentality, they completely lost their civility. They interpreted “get ‘em while supplies last” as “get yours before the other guy does.”

I’ll be avoiding the Black Friday zombies again this year by sitting home and shopping online.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Facebook getting uncool for the 18-24 crowd?

In its early days, Facebook was made an overnight sensation by a college-age crowd that sought it out as an exclusive sanctuary in which to connect with their peers. For that market, it was an attractive alternative to sites deemed to have lost their cool -- like MySpace, which had become a haven for pre-teens and high schoolers. To me, this Adweek story sounds like deja-vu all over again.

Could it be that Facebook is now officially "uncool" for the 18-24 crowd? According to comScore, as it has gained a broader audience, the older teens and twentysomethings that drove Facebook's initial popularity are using it less. We all know Facebook has become a tool for professionals like photographers and marketing consultants, many of whom could (God forbid!) be the parents of the core demo Facebook was intended to serve.

I love this quote by Huw Griffiths, evp and global director of marketing accountability and research at Interpublic Group's Universal McCann:

"When you start getting friended by your grandmother, I think that's when it starts to lose its cool."

Gee, do ya think? According to comScore, the average number of minutes spent online with the site among 18- to 24-year-olds fell in September for the third consecutive month compared to the same period a year ago, with the drop-off rate increasing each month.

This reminds me of the October '06 Chronicle of Higher Education story about how many college students, preferring to correspond via text messaging, felt that e-mail was “for old people.” Is anyone at all surprised by this? I know that my children, who are now 19 and 24 years of age and attending large universities, would agree that Facebook ceases to be hip, cool or attractive to them in any way the instant one of their parents is on it. And yes, they do feel e-mail is for old people. Good luck getting either one of them to return an e-mail message. Marketing and media always strive to quantify and categorize target demographic groups in an attempt to monetize. I get that – let’s see how big or how affluent the audience is, so we can determine how much to charge advertisers targeting that audience. But here’s the problem - Did anyone really expect the 18-24 crowd could be categorized and cataloged so broadly? Talk about a moving target; they are all way too cool for us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Selling Detroit - The biggest branding challenge ever?

According to Stuart Elliot's NY Times piece on 11/15, a new multi-agency effort is about to be launched in an attempt to attract young talent and creativity to what has got to be America's most downtrodden city.

I'm speaking of the once mighty motor city - Detroit. And if ever there was a city more desperately in need of a re-branding, that's it. I'd say

Newark or Paterson, NJ would come under that same category (the latter being place of my birth) but the weather is better in Jersey and Detroit is in far worse shape. One look at the houses, factories and other infrastructure literally crumbling before your eyes would be enough to frighten away the most dauntless of entrepreneurs among us.

I read a story recently about the last little company moving out of the old Packard plant. The place has been falling apart for years - from a combination of constant vandalism and neglect - and no cars have been built there in more than fifty years. In the meantime, VW is spending over a billion dollars on a new plant in Chattanooga. I guess if the domestic carmakers can't make the numbers work in Detroit, then why expect a European company to give it a go?

Anyway, the the yearlong “Assignment Detroit” project is being sponsored by the Time Inc. unit of Time Warner and involves reporters and editors from Essence, Fortune,

Money, Sports Illustrated, Time and related Web sites. Several advertising agencies with offices in the Detroit area were asked to develop campaigns. The five who agreed to take part are Campbell-Ewald, McCann Erickson, the Troy office of Leo Burnett, and Doner and GlobalHue, both in Southfield, MI.

Time Inc. is devoting an estimated $400,000 in ad pages in Fortune to the contest. An ironically-named spokesperson, Mark Ford, president for the news group at Time Inc. in New York, said the contest springs from the group's belief in the renewal of the city. The campaign will be targeted more to the 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

I'll be watching this one closely. Who knows - maybe the situation isn't as hopeless as it seems. And maybe advertising really can make a difference. I applaud those agencies for having taken a stake in the resurgence of a great American city. Maybe the same thing could work for Newark and Paterson.

Visitors to the Web sites will be able to vote for their favorite among the five campaigns. The winner is to be announced on Dec. 2, during an annual awards ceremony in Detroit known as the D Show.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tool makers' merger might be a real stinker.

The Wisconsin Tourism Federation, or WTF, was founded in 1979, long before WTF was universally accepted as an abbreviation for a vulgar expression of surprise and confusion. In July, After having found itself with the dubious distinction of having its logo featured on the 'Your Logo Makes Me Barf' blog, the WTF changed its logo and name to TFW, or the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin.

Some say it's an unfortunate acronym, but not worth the trouble and expense to change it? Sure, it's bound to give a few snickers, but is it really that big of a deal? After all the World Taekwondo Federation, undoubtedly another fine organization, shares the same unfortunate acronym but I’m not aware of any controversy over their ID system.

I might take it up a notch – okay maybe eleven notches – and run a TV campaign with people faining surprise and saying “WTF??” You're right. The folks up in Wisconsin who administer the visitor and taxpayer dollars paying for this stuff probably wouldn’t approve it. Bummer.

Now tool makers Stanley and Black & Decker have announced a merger. Could this be another WTF? The new company, to be called Stanley Black & Decker, may present another challenging acronym – SBD. Yep, Silent But Deadly. I’m certain that if this deal means a major consolidation and elimination of American jobs, those who are restructured to the unemployment line will agree that it really stinks.

Clients want agencies to keep a sharp pencil on fees - so what's new?

A recent Ad Age story covered the "news" about agencies have been under pressure to deliver a sharper pencil on fees. We all know that clients don’t want to leave money on the table. Has someone been sleeping? The eighties - that crazy time when some of the big brands spent lavishly and the big suits in the ad business like Phil Dusenbury bragged about having unlimited budgets - are far behind us. Clients have been squeazing agencies for some time now. In fact, next to "make the logo bigger," isn't the next thing the client says, "do it cheaper?" In the world of small agencies in smaller markets or vertical specialty industries, this has been a reality for quite a long time.

Two sides to this argument, of course:

On one hand, clients are expecting agencies to apply some of their creativity to the process of delivering the work at a lower cost, so they can lower their cost of doing business. Seems perfectly reasonable, especially these days when technology gives us all many ways to do things more efficiently.

On the other hand, I do believe that clients who treat agencies and their unique creative product like vendors who sell commodity items like floor wax and file folders are being unreasonable. If a client is convinced that a particular creative approach or strategic plan is right for them, and will increase their sales, they should be willing to pay a premium for it.