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.