Who is the target audience of the evening news?

At the UBS Global Media & Communications Conference Les Moonves, president-CEO of CBS Corp., voiced quite the concern when he remarked, "I am concerned that average watcher of the evening news is 61."

If I were Les, I would be concerned, too. Why are younger people not watching the evening news? An assumption can be made that the younger generations are not as engaged in society as older generations. Think Leno’s “man on the street” segments where people can’t come up with the name of the Vice President.

But I don’t think this is the whole story. I think we have always had disengaged people. The reason that younger generations are not tuning in to news broadcasts is because they are getting their information from other sources that package it to match their lifestyles. Online websites that offer RSS feeds, and are instantly updated with the current news stories serve these generations that have come to value immediacy.

And, the evening news isn’t exactly set up to attract younger viewers. If your local news is anything like mine, 50% is weather, not exactly the right content to get Gen X and Y to close the lids on their laptops. If newscasts are interested in appealing to younger viewers they need to do some research, offer content relevant to that demographic and try to integrate content to the Web where this generation spends their time.


Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its Red Bull

Adweek points out this ad from Red Bull that came under attack from Italian priests and was pulled. Apparently they weren’t too keen on the idea of a fourth Wiseman bringing Red Bull as a gift to Baby Jesus. I always thought that Red Bull contained Myrrh, but I guess I was wrong, as it is mainly used in Chinese medicine. Go figure.

So the question is: does the controversy surrounding this ad and its removal from the airwaves help or hurt Red Bull. Well if you think of their audience as being young people who crave energy and are a bit rebellious (though I am pretty sure most of their sales come from stressed out, overworked creatives), then this little episode is pretty much on brand.

I’m sure the suits at Red Bull would never admit it, but this fits right in with their image.


Audience Driven Through Consumer Modes

An interesting article in the October 29, 2007 issue of Advertising Age is a great example of an audience-driven marketing strategy. Rick Milenthal, CEO of Engauge, lays out the six most relevant “consumer modes.” These are: Entertainment, Information, Discovery, Connecting, Sharing and Expressing.

Milenthal posits that consumers engage with different media with purposes, goals and needs. These can be sorted into consumer modes. Great advertising recognizes these elements and satisfies them.

This is just another way of saying that marketing needs to provide the consumer with the information they are looking for in the way that they are looking for it. Marketing should not take the form of pushing the company line down the throats of consumers. Consumers are savvy and will tune out on those message that are not relevant.

So what mode are your customers in when making purchasing decisions for your product? Are they in the entertainment mode? If so, your advertising needs to be entertaining.

Sounds simple, right?


What is a Web site?

A recent project at work had a group of us thinking about Web sites, or more accurately, what role do Web sites play in marketing, advertising and public relations? We determined that this role is different depending on the company and the situation. However we did come up with one consistent element: sites should be audience driven.

Far too often, with communications throughout the marketing spectrum, we approach projects with a "What do we want to say?" instead of "What do they (the customer) want to know?" attitude. When your Web site is set up to provide the information your prospects are looking for, then you have an audience driven tool that acts a resource. This requires knowing what your customers are looking for. That is where the real challenge lies, and where I think companies should devote resources. That's right, put money into research.

It doesn't have to be a statistically valid phone survey (but that would help). It can be a simple focus group, which, when properly moderated, can uncover some powerful customer preferences that translate to marketing messages.

Or you can look at your existing Web traffic. What areas are people visiting on your site. Where do they spend the most time?

This is just the beginning of uncovering your prospect's desires, but it shows that such an exploration can provide structure for your communications to become something that people actually read.


Making fun of the competition

Over at LinkedIn a marketing professional raised this question:

Would you consider it acceptable to send a mailer that pokes gentle fun at a competitor?

My answer was as follows:

I think as marketers we should rarely create "never" situations, because saying you should "never" do something limits the creative thought process. There was a time when it was said that a commercial should never run longer than 30 seconds. Now we have mini films like Hammer and Coop playing on the Internet. Thus, I think there are situations where you can consider poking fun at a competitor. But there are questions to ask.

Does the comparison inferred from "poking fun" at a competitor reflect your brand's position in the marketplace? If you are going to insinuate a flaw in your competition, your point of differentiation must be that you are the exact opposite. Mac poking fun at PCs for crashing would be more believable and palatable if Macs never crashed. However, Macs do crash, so consumers may react negatively to the comparison.

When is it a good idea to do this? When the deficiency that you are poking fun at is something that your product fixes or avoids and when you are a "smaller" company than the company you are making fun of. If a small company takes on a large company it creates an underdog situation which is a great way to generate buzz. Mark Hughes talks about this in his book "Buzzmarketing."

But never let humor or the urge to ridicule a competitor lead you away from your core brand promise or positioning.

That was my answer. What do you think?


Ford and Fetuses

What do dolphin, elephant and bear fetuses have to do with cars? Ford would like to show you in this European ad for their Flexifuel cars.

A car commercial without a car. How refreshing. I mean, honestly, how many more times do we have to watch shiny sedans coasting down a winding road?

Kudos to Ford and the agency behind the ad, Ogilvy Stockholm. A few more ads like this and I may remove my hex from Ford laid upon them for all the trouble I had with my 1995 Taurus.

Thanks to the Very Short List for bringing this ad to my attention.


Authenticity in advertising

The advertisement was for a local car dealership. It was a third tier spot with the local dealer in front of the camera. Trying to jump on the popular topic of fuel efficiency (gas prices here are somewhere between $3.19 and $3.30 a gallon, and climbing), the announcer rattled off some tips on how to improve your gas mileage. The last tip was to buy a brand new pickup that gets up to 23 miles to the gallon.

I thought he was joking.

Since when did 23 miles to the gallon equate to good fuel efficiency?

This is not a post about the environment or gasoline. It is about authenticity.

Do I believe that a car salesman with a lot full of large SUVs to sell is really concerned with me getting better gas mileage? Of course not. He is concerned with selling cars. To do that, he needs people on the lot. So the goal of his advertising is to get me to come to his dealership. If you really get down to it, those annoying ads with screaming announcers talking about a limited sale are actually more authentic.

I’m not saying I like them. They have their own issues and a screaming person is never the best way to market to people. But when you advertise without authenticity, you hurt your brand just as much, if not more, than when you annoy people.

Tim Mathers has a great take on authenticity at the Fast Company blog. His subject is McDonalds and their Shrek healthy diets promotion. Again, McDonalds and healthy eating? Not so authentic.


The truth about word of mouth advertising

“Well, we rely on mostly on word of mouth advertising.”

Talking to people about their marketing plans, I often hear this. This statement can mean a bunch of things. It could mean that the company has contracted with a successful WOM agency to actively engage consumers in a WOM campaign. Or it can mean that they have instituted some social media tactics into their marketing mix to engage consumers in conversation. It could mean that they have established a strong referral program with incentives for customers who refer new customers.

More often than not, it means, "We don’t do any planned advertising or strategic marketing programs and we don’t think we need to, because when we unlock the doors and flip on the neon “open” sign, the customers show up and buy stuff." Or in a manufacturing setting: "We rely on quality ratings and supplier ratings, respond to requests for quotes from the prime contractors in our industry and are happy with our piece of the pie."

The problems come when they experience roller coaster periods of activity—up one month, down the next. Or when the big contract comes to an end and there isn’t another one to replace it. Or when a new competitor enters the market and takes part of those customers that seemed to just show up during operating hours.

The truth about word of mouth marketing is that, while powerful, it is not something that just happens. If you are relying on that last customer who had a great experience to go tell his five closest friends, who will tell their five closest friends and so on, then you are not really engaging in word of mouth advertising. You are hoping. And hope usually runs out as more competitors enter the market place.

The big message is this: WOM is not just something your customers do. It is something that you must help shape. Many times, this is best done through branding initiatives.

Think about it. If you have customers talking about your business and you don’t have a well-defined brand, who knows what they are saying about you? You may have five different customers saying five different positive things about your business. If we are honest, most of the time we aren’t really good at five different things. In best-case scenarios, our businesses are pretty good at four things and really good at one.

When you establish a brand identity based on a brand promise (that one thing, not the four others) and communicate it to your target market through the appropriate mediums, you begin to shape the words that the consumer uses to brag about you.

Perhaps the biggest disconnect with businesses on this issue is (shocker) over money. Branding costs money (often times lots of it), while WOM is free. Right? Wrong.

Firms that are successful over a long period of time have well-defined brands that are reinforced by their actions. They do this by investing resources (AKA $) in branding and reap the benefits of positive WOM after.

So is your company engaging in WOM advertising or just hoping?


Hearing no is never easy

So you look at the request for proposal and think, "We can help these people." The creative process begins, where you learn about the target market--their lifestyle, hobbies, favorite brand of floss--and then the inspiration hits you, maybe over lunch at a BBQ joint.

Your idea is non-traditional, not mass media and more one-to-one. You know that it will resonate with the audience and cause them to take action. It will get them talking and spreading the message.

But you worry that the client may think it is too “out there.” Where exactly Out There is you’re not quite sure. Is it near Cleveland? So you bolster the plan with some more traditional tactics and bring the whole thing together.

Presentation time arrives and you give it hell, really pouring out the passion, providing all the justification that your idea, while different, will work.

And the committee is interested. They ask you questions that allow you to confront the concerns about taking a trip to Out There and people seem satisfied.

Three days later you hear the news. They went with someone else. Someone with a more traditional plan. They describe the winning plan like they would a Volvo or a baby crib: safe.

It hurts. Not because you lost the business. It hurts because you lost out on a chance to prove the power of divergent thinking.

So you think about the next RFP and ask yourself, “Should we just give them what they are expecting?”

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather buy a small shack up in Out There, than put forth a boring solution I didn’t think was right.


All choked up over new Kleenex campaign

I suppose you can ask why a product like Kleenex needs to advertise. I would argue that there is brand cultivation to consider. The Let it Out campaign does a brilliant job of creating a valuable and emotional place for Kleenex within the lives of consumers.

A blue couch on the sidewalks of major cities becomes a place where total strangers sit and talk about what has made them cry and often the reminiscing leads to more tears. It's a good thing that there is a box of Kleenex right in front of them.

The spots are well shot with great music. They lead you to the Kleenex site that has a Let it Out Blog. It work really well.

I' m misting up just talking about it.
Photo Courtesy of Flickr user Artamnesia