Archive for August, 2005


It isn’t every day that you run into something THIS cool. So open your schedule book, grab a highlighter and color-in the next 45 minutes. Yep, right now. It’s worth it.

Okay… done? Ready? Click here. When you’re done exploring, click here. You won’t regret it.

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image copyright 2004 Olivier Blanchard
“How can we create a brand relationship with consumers, on behalf of our clients, in this new digitally-enabled universe? How does that affect the kind of narrative structure we can build around brands?”

That’s one of the many question pondered by Lee Daly (C.E.O. Saatchi & Saatchi, UK) in his recent interview with Spark/CNN. Check it out.

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Reach Your Audience

image copyright 2004 Olivier Blanchard

Yeah, a bullhorn works, but it’s kind of limited. Still, much like any form of communications, having a captive audience makes a world of difference.

When you think about the nature of advertising, it’s interesting to note that very few people actually seek it out. With the exception of… well, me (and a few others, I hope) most people don’t flip through their TV channels to skip regular programming in favor of the latest advertisments. Likewise, most people don’t pick up magazines specifically to browse through advertising content either. Most people only are only “accidentally” exposed to advertisers’messsages… several hundred times per day.

Okay, sure, we make exceptions during the superbowl. The ads are as much a part of the experience now as what happens on the field, and that’s nice, but it’s the exception that confirms the rule. At least for adults. With kids, it’s a different story. Mine are captivated by toy ads on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. My kids know how to change the channel, but they don’t during “commercial breaks”. And that’s a point that I’ll come back to in a bit.

My point here is that we typically don’t seek out advertising. We don’t go to it. It comes to us. In the industry, we use the word “exposure”. Well, let me tell you about exposure: I don’t usually hear people say that they have been exposed to love or excitement or enthusiasm. When people use the word “exposure” it is usually in the same sentence as things like “virus” or “bad language” or “TV violence”.

Unless you’re a photographer, “exposure” is typically not a positive word. Yet we use it, because it describes the relationship between advertisers and the public fairly well. That tells you a lot about the nature of this business, or at least our perception of it.

As I’ve said before, advertising seeks you out. It comes to you. More and more magazines now offer more advertising content than… actual content. (Advertising is content now.) Every ten minutes or so, whatever show you’re watching on TV takes a break so that advertisers can get get some more face time with you. On your commute to and from work, you’re “exposed” to billboard ads. The ads come in on the radio, at the multiplex, at the amusement park, at the store and just about every time you access a website. It follows you everywhere, hence the advent of ad-killing technologies like TiVO, pop-up blockers and satellite radio.

You know how annoying those telemarketers are? You know, the ones who call you every five minutes while you’re trying to eat dinner? That’s the path that the advertising world is on with its blatant oversaturation. Instead of boring us to death, inspire us. Make us sit up and pay attention. Shorten your campaigns. Be aware that most of you aren’t as cool as you think you are. Don’t make yourselves a nuisance. Read the warning signs, guys. Your game plan needs to change.

A question you have to ask yourself is this: Assuming that advertising actually affects purchasing habits, can it be argued that more advertising and more repetition will actually translate into more market penetration and more sales? Well, it depends on whether or not you a) have a great product, b) have a captive audience, and c) have the right kind of ad to begin with.

Researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle University, and Washington State University recently examined consumers’ responses to advertising. They took into considerations a variety of elements like brand beliefs, responses to informational and emotional appeals, efforts to avoid advertising, attention to ads and reliance on ads versus other information sources. The test group was shown eight TV commercials, half of which were defined as emotional and the other half as informational.

For the sake of clarity Nancy Gardner (who publishded an introductory report on the study’s findings) explains that:

Emotional ads are characterized as providing an emotional experience that is relevant to the use of the brand.

Informational ads predominantly provide clear brand data.

The basic results:

Consumers who considered themselves highly skeptical of all ads were persuaded less by informational ads than they were by emotional ads.

In contrast, non-skeptics were more responsive to informational advertising.

Co-Author and professor of Marketing and International Business at the UW Business School explains that “Skepticism leads to less attention to and reliance on advertising, and generally a decreased chance that the consumer will purchase the advertised product.”


He continues: “Highly skeptical consumers have likely become skeptical over time, in response to numerous interactions in the marketplace that have led them to distrust ad claims.”

The study further concludes that “skeptical consumers like advertising less, rely on it less, and respond more positively to emotional appeals.”

Per Carl Obermiller, professor of Marketing at Seattle University and co-author of the study: “Those who are more skeptical respond to advertising in negative ways – they like it less; they think it is less influential and, they do more to avoid it–zipping past ads on recorded programs and switching channels during commercials.”

Furthermore,Skeptical consumers also are inclined to need to validate the truth of ads by consulting with friends and family members.” (WOMM – see previous post)

MacLaughlan elaborates:

“The advertising skeptic regards advertising as not credible, and therefore, not worth processing. (His) perspective differs from the consumer cynic. A cynical consumer is critical of advertising because of its manipulative intent and indirect appeals. Such consumers may prefer simple, direct, informative advertising. Skeptics, however, do not.”

In other words, skeptics can’t be sold on a product or brand through the use of informational appeals.

So… it doesn’t really matter how many times you play the same ad over and over again. If your ad isn’t helping your intended audience to connect with your brand, you are wasting your time… and ours.

Once again, quality (or rather specificity) trumps out quantity.

Unfortunately, the report did not touch on what percentage of the US population might fall under the “skeptical consumer,” “non-skeptical consumer” and “cynical consumer categories.

Speaking of quantity and oversaturation, do you know what the average TV ad campaign’s life cycle is? 5 weeks. It should be more like 2-3. By week 5, it’s probably safe to say that we’re more than ready to move on.

But don’t take my word for it: Somebody is actually working on a study to validate the arguent. The ongoing test, called Project Wanamaker (in Omaha, Nebraska) has already shown some interesting results. Per Lee Weinblatt, CEO of The PreTesting Company:

“After two weeks of watching commercials, viewers generally become fatigued.”

And there you have it, folks.

“The things killing TV commercials are overexposure and poor creative,” adds Weinblat. “Give them more interesting commercials.” Wayne Friedman, the author of the piece, notes that one advertiser–Subway–kept changing its creative during the test, and experienced less weariness among viewers.

Right. (Note to self: If you aren’t going to be effective, at least be entertaining.)

A sad, sad word of caution, however: Erotic and violent images may cloud viewers’ ability to focus on the actual object of the ad.

“We observed that people fail to detect visual images that appeared one-fifth of a second after emotional images, whereas they can detect those images with little problem after viewing neutral images,” says Vanderbilt University psychologist David Zald.

The effect is known as attentional rubbernecking.

“We think that there is essentially a bottleneck for information processing and if a certain type of stimulus captures attention, it can basically jam up that bottleneck so subsequent information can’t get through,” says Zald.

In other words, although a provocative or visually loud ad is likely to grab your attention, it also hinders your ability to focus on the brand or product it promotes.

The findings, however, do not seem to take into account the effect of such an ad over time. Through repetition, it is likely that we might become desensitized to the distracting elements of the ad and naturally begin focusing more and more on its actual message. Since the more interesting the ad is, the longer it will continue to attract our attention, no matter how distracting the ad may be, we’ll eventually get the point.

(And that is good news.)

So, look… after all of this yapping about this and that, I’m going to make it simple for ye of the advertising world:

1) Know what you want to say.
2) Know whom you want to say it to.
3) Ask yourself why you want to say it. (No, really. That one’s more important than you think.)
4) Once that’s done and the next question becomes “how do I want to say it,” remember to keep it simple, keep it true, and make sure it isn’t boring. (At the very least, be courteous enough to make your ads either entertaining or inspiring… or both.)

Remember the thing I mentioned about my kids not changing the channel when commercials come on? That’s all you have to do: Make ads for us grownups that won’t prompt us to change the channel. Simple, isn’t it? If you guys allow us to fall in love with your craft again, maybe you won’t need to work so hard to get our attention in the first place.

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image copyright 2005 Olivier Blanchard

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the big buzzword in the marketing world this year is WOMM (word of mouth marketing), which emphasizes the value of a brand’s reputation rather than a prefabricated image sold through advertising.

Boiled down to its basics, WOMM targets the customer’s experience rather than the brand’s message. Those experiences range from their opinion of the products themselves, to how friendly (or not) the person who answers the phone at your company’s headquarters is. It argues that through WOM, a brand’s reputation can be made or unmade, because people trust WOM more than they do advertising and traditional marketing.

It’s all absolutely true… and it’s nothing new. It’s just that for the past decade or so, we have all been so focused on mass media and the internet (reaching as many people as possible) that we have slacked-off on building close-knit relationships with our markets. Well, we have pretty websites to show for it, and more sales too, but how is our reputation now compared to how it was ten years ago? Do we even know who to ask anymore? And is there value in getting down in the trenches again to find out what’s what?

Here’s an exerpt from Ian McKee’s (CEO of Vocanic) blog:

– Fact: people are increasingly screening out ads. (Even) if the ads make it through, the clutter means that a very few are remembered, and if they do, then people are increasingly distrustful and cynical of the messages received. (Incidentally, catalogs, website content and all promotional materials are pretty-much ads for a brand, to some extent.)
– Fact: Reputation comes from peoples experience of the brand. Ask an Australian what they think of Qantas (airline) or Telstra (telco) – they both spends millions advertising that they value their customers, but when you call them you have to wait on hold for 15 mins, and their staff are frequently brusque to the point of rudeness due to lack of motivation. You can guess the answer, they have a reputation of not caring.
Here, Ian quotes NOP World research (in another post) to explain some key WOM drivers:
Recent research from NOP World has revealed that face-to-face recommendation remains the strongest medium for spreading word-of-mouth recommendation, with telephone recommendations running a close second.
When asked how they make recommendations, four out of five of the 1000 consumers questioned (80%) said that they make them in person. Some 68% said that they make them over the telephone. The NOP research found that this phenomenon is even stronger among the Influentials (the one in ten Americans who tell the other nine how to vote, where to eat and what to buy), with 90% of this group making in-person recommendations and 79% making
recommendations by phone.
The study also found that fewer than 40% of consumers use e-mail to make recommendations to others. This was broken down further into: personal e-mail (37%); e-mail forwarding (32%); and mass e-mails (12%). While slightly higher percentages of Influentials use e-mail (personal e-mail 53%; e-mail forwarding 39%; and mass e-mails 18%), face-to-face communication still far outweighs this medium.
According to Jon Berry, Vice President for NOP World: “The majority of word-of-mouth is still done at the coffee house, in the mall, over brunch or at the gym. Although technology and the Internet play a significant role in
spreading word-of-mouth, live discussions are still driving the trend.”
This has three implications for most businesses:
1) A strong presence “on the ground” with your customers and endusers is
2) ‘Word-of-mouth’ is a powerful medium that shouldn’t be overlooked. It is where your reputation is being cemented day in, day out (for better or for worse).
3) You can’t fake it or put a spin on it. WOM is as real as it gets, which is why it is so effective. People trust their peers’ opinions more than they trust what companies tell them.
The thing about word-of-mouth is that it is viral in nature: One customer’s bad experience can spread like an infection and give us a bad name across an entire region. Likewise, a very good experience can spread just as easily and influence people to look more favorably on your company on their next project.
The question is: Are you doing everything you can to make sure that your customers’ experience of doing business with you is as positive as it can be?
When it comes to owning markets, the best thing a company or brand can do is turn a segment of its customer base into a small army of brand champions. These are the influencers in their markets. Make them love you, and that love will spread. Identifying those key influencers in your territories and wowing them will yield serious results.
The easiest way to turn customers into your brand’s advocates is to put out quality products that they know they can depend on, and make them readily available. Most of you already know that. As long as you don’t lose sight of that, the battle will be mostly won. But there’s more to your company and brand than just great products (and fast shipping). The biggest complaint people have about companies across every single industry these days (and this can make or break brands) is customer service.
A simple way to build a GREAT reputation on top of an already good one is to make sure that doing business with you is easier and more pleasant than doing business with everyone else. Customer Service is absolutely key in this aspect (and by that, I don’t just mean your receptionist and call center).
– Whether a customer is looking for information about one of your products online or needs to call in, his experience has to be swift, painless, and pleasant.
– Information on the website(s) and your catalogs has to be easy to find and work with.
– If a customer must speak to a live person, they have to spend almost zero time on hold.
– Whomever they speak with has to be friendly and helpful. Charming and eager to help is even better.
From the moment they hear someone greet them on your end of the line to the moment they hang up, or from the moment they access your welcome page to the moment they complete their transaction, they have to be thinking “WOW, I wish every company I deal with were THAT good”.
(Note the emphasis on “WOW”.)
Remember those key influencers I mentioned a paragraph or two ago? Make them love you, and that love will spread. (And yes, I do mean LOVE, not LIKE.) Settle for making them merely satisfied, and you’ll spend a lot of time knocking on their door to try and sell them something. Yours should be the first name that pops up in our customers’ minds when they need whatever type of product or service you provide. That’s what you’re after. You might call it respect or trust… I call it love. And making them love you is easier (and cheaper) than you’d think. You just have to be smart about it. And diligent.
Sure, there are people out there who will never love you or your brand or even be satisfied with your products or services… And they probably feel that way about every other compnay they deal with. The trick rests in realizing that as long as they are less mad at you than at everyone else, they may (in their own way) become potent advocates for your brand. At the very least, they’ll keep coming back.
Think of your own experiences with airlines, car dealerships and computer companies’ customer support. think about the difference between the cashier’s attitude at WalMart versus Publix (if you’re in the SouthEast). Think about who you do business with and why. Think about who you don’t want to do business with and why. People are a lot more forgiving of a shipping error or a faulty product when they won’t have to fight to get the problem taken care of. Take their troubles away, and you’ll make a friend for life.
There’s no doubt that we all want to be customer-centric. We do everything we can to give our customers exactly what they want. We almost never, ever say “no” to a customer’s request. We keep adding web resources to make their lives easier. We produce terrific promotional products aimed at helping customers do business with us. We have great customer service… So from our perspective, we’re doing all of the things we need to do…
… but is your customer base’s experience with your brand truly aligned with what you think it is (or want it to be)? Is the quality of your products what it should be? Are you easy to do business with? Do you keep your promises? In other words, does your brand’s reputation out in the real world meet your hopes and aspirations, or are you falling short in some areas? These are real questions.
Beyond that, how do you get even better? How do you go from really good to GREAT? How do you WOW your customers without breaking the bank? How do you get to that level?
You start by being true to yourself and to your customers, that’s how. And if you have a good product and a good story to sell, go tell everyone about it. The rest, well, your customers will let you know.

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Dare To Inspire

copyright 2005 Olivier Blanchard

All they said was, “Your work blew us away.”

It really doesn’t get much better than that.

Inspiring a client to fall in love with their brand all over again (and helping their customers do the same) is nirvana.

Every day is a good day, but some days just rock my world something fierce.


In case you’re in need of a mood boost, here is some great advice the cool folks at Brand Autopsy were kind enough to share with the world (from Radical Careering, by Sally Hogstead):

– It’s Impossible to be Happy Without Momentum.
– Do What You Are.
– Invent Option C.
– Expressing your truest self is the ultimate competitive advantage.
– Make your memoirs worth reading.

Good stuff.

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Royal Flush

“Could toilet paper actually be the next frontier in affordable luxury? The Europeans and the Japanese are already all over it,” writes Dale Hrabi in his latest article for Radar Online magazine.

What’s interesting isn’t so much the concept of luxury TP, but the way some brands are going to market with their luxury brands. There’s obviously work to be done here when it comes to adding value to… well… toilet paper, but our European counterparts seem to have gotten a head start.

There, the logic of “if A=B, and A=C, then B=C” has been adapted to toilet paper: If luxury is sexy and toilet paper is a luxury, then toilet paper is sexy.

(Thanks to Spanish TP maker Renova, I have a whole new appreciation for hanging out in the bathroom now. For the full campaign, follow the link to their “advertising” section.)

What’s interesting about Renova’s campaign is that the company isn’t afraid to come out of the (water-) closet when it comes to toilet paper usage: Their slogan (“the pleasure of being clean”) explores the value of toilet paper and hygiene far beyond the realm of simply taking care of #2. It’s also about getting close. It’s about feeling clean. Renova tells the story of their toilet paper’s value in a very unique way, which personally, I find clever and effective (but then again, I’m French).

The point is that the ad creates value, thereby elevating TP above its generic white roll commodity status. It also makes the brand sexy. Very sexy. For that portion of the market that responds well to cK ads, this brand could do quite well.

Are American sensibilities ready for this kind of fresh (and wide-ranging) honesty? That’s the million-dollar question.

Whether you find this approach offensive or clever, it works well in Europe… and I would venture to guess that it is just a matter of time before somebody takes a chance wit it in the US and gives babies and teddybears the proverbial boot. The thing is that if you don’t like this ad, it’s because it isn’t aimed at you, and that’s okay. The idea behind luxury TP is that it isn’t for everyone. It isn’t a generic product. It is meant to appeal to a particular segment of the market. You’re either in it, or you aren’t.

By the way, what does this ad tell you about who (men or women) Renova is primarily aiming their advertising at? (Who actually buys the toilet paper?)

Read all about it here. (It’s a short article.)

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copyright 1993 olivier blanchard

Don’t you wish you could turn back time every now and again? Take back that stupid comment you made during the last board meeting? Take back that promise you made that you knew you couldn’t keep? Take advantage of an opportunity that should have been obvious when it first fell on your lap… but for whatever reason, wasn’t all that obvious at the time?

I bet that right about now, FedEx does.

If you haven’t heard of Mr. Jose Avila’s little scrap with FedEx, here’s the short version: Avila (a software developer) found himself having to move to Arizona before the lease on his apt. was up, forcing him to cover two rents. A little short on cash, he decided to make furniture out of FedEx boxes until he could buy some real furniture for his new place. The results were kind of funny, so he posted his creations on his website.

When FedEx found out about it (the next day), their legal department threatened to sue him if he didn’t take down the site.

Whazawha? Hey, FedEx! What are you guys thinking? Wake up!

Didn’t anyone there think that maybe this was kind of a cool idea? That maybe you could use it to promote your company in some way? That a younger generation of future FedEx users might be positively influenced by a concept like this? Didn’t you think, for even a minute, that maybe you should put this guy in touch with your marketing team before throwing threats his way?

You could have turned this into so many opportunities, it boggles the mind.

The ad campaign, for starters:

Picture a shaky camera following Avila (or a FedEx-obsessed character loosely based on Avila) through little episodes of his daily life – At home, at the office, on a date… he incorporates and adapts FedEx packages and labels to every facet of his life. (His furniture is only the tip of the iceberg.)

Done right, it could have been a lot funnier than dancing chickens, talking monkeys or celebrities trying to be cool by driving FedEx trucks around the neighborhood, frankly.

You could have even taken it a step further and launched a contest to see what kind of stuff people could make out of FedEx packages: Cars, houses, boats, suits… whatever. The bolder, the better. It would have gotten people involved, it would have gotten them into FedEx locations to obtain materials… It would have increased points of contact and made your company seem more accessible (or at least easier or more fun to deal with). It would have added a whole new layer of brand ownership for them. This was an opportunity to get folks to actually make art out of your product. You could have helped them connect with your brand.

You could have used humor to explore some powerful themes… like rabid brand loyalty and service flexibility. (FedEx can help you in more ways than just sending packages.) You could have signed Avila on (like Subway did with Jarod) and either used him in your ads or paid him for the rights to his idea.

But instead, you threatened to sue him.



Ever heard of David & Goliath? Do you realize the role that underdogs play in the Western psyche? Do you have a concept of what makes people hate the “corporate mentality”? The little guy versus “The Man”? Keep that in mind when you consider how FedEx looks to the rest of us, going after a little guy like Avila for no good reason at all.

It’s too late to turn this around now. That train has already left the station, but the story is still gaining momentum. Decades from now, it will probably still be making the rounds of business and marketing programs around the country: The great FedEx marketing blunder of 2005. (Hey! Catchy!)

I know, I know, hindsight’s always 20/20… but this one really wouldn’t have taken a genius. You don’t sue people who bring good publicity to your brand with an original idea… at least not without talking to your marketing department first.

Lesson learned. (One can hope.)

Welcome aboard. Tickets please?

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