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Now this is getting ridiculous.

Remember that post I had back in February 2009 about Rosetta Stone language program reusing a radio script, almost word for word, that had previously been used for an acne fighting medicine?  Well woudn't you know it but this past Wednesday I heard the exact same script reused AGAIN!  This time for a program called "Eye Q" that claims to make you read 1000 times faster.  In seven minutes.  Yeah.

Normally I'd say that this tactic was stupid, and that sharing a commercial is just going to embarrass every brand involved.  I'd say that Advertising needs to be an unseen commodity.   You see/hear the commercial, but if a customer starts thinking about the advertising decisions being made "backstage" they start thinking about what the company doing the advertising thinks of them.  And, honestly, the last thing you want is for your customers to start thinking.  Seriously, advertising should be like the Wizard of Oz, yelling "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Now, in this particular case it may not be such a stupid idea.   I had a look at the website of "Eye Q" and got the impression that being associated with relatively big brands like ProActiv and Rosetta Stone would actually be a step up for them.  So...I guess this ends up being clever marketing after all.  Still lazy, but not as dumb as it initially looks.

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A couple of notes from E3: Part One

E3 is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the annual convention for personal entertainment products, primarily Video Games.  I havn't managed to convince them that this blog counts as me being part of the media industry, and thus worthy of an invite, but I have high hopes for next year!

Doesn't matter, anyway, because most of the major press conferences have been broadcast on cable network G4.  So after a week of watching I have to give out some recognition for impressive work:

1. First to G4 themselves.  They know full well that they're a smaller, niche network, but they make the best of it.  They only have about 2 hours a day of original programming, divided up between their programs "XPlay" (about video games), and "Attack Of The Show" (about everything else in popular and geek culture).  But still every year they broadcast E3 and have the hosts of their original programs out there interviewing people, doing demos and acting as a witness for the viewers.

2. Electronic Arts: Not exactly known as an engine of innovation.  Electronic Arts is one of the two biggest video game publishers in the world, and they havn't always been the most nimble, business wise.  But their current rivalry with Activision is actually making them have to work harder these days, much to their credit. 

A word of history: Video Games get distributed much like movies.  A "Studio" designs the game, writes it, codes it and polishes it, and then a "Publisher" distributes it.  Sometimes the original studio actually sells the IP (intellectual property...the story lines, plots, characters, sequel potential etc.) to the publisher, which explains how Cambridge, MA based Harmonix lost control of "Guitar Hero" when Activision had Guitar Hero III and subsequent games developed by a different studio (which is actually a good thing, because Harmonix went on to create the infinitely superior "RockBand" franchise).  Sometimes, the Publisher even buys up the studio in order to control the IP.

Activision was associated with several projects that were getting great press and anticipation...which they proceeded to drop.  Their reasoning was that these games were large, potentially costly projects that could make a profit, but wouldn't be ripe for cheap, easy to churn out sequels year after year.  And that's not rumor...that's what Activision's CEO announced to the press.  You know that scene in Altman's "The Player" where Peter Gallagher talks about not needing writers in order to make a profitable movie?  It's kind of like that.

Well, EA picked those projects up.  Not only that, they're now advertising how much they enjoy working with partners...in other words studios that are controlling their own IP but working with EA for publishing and marketing purposes.  Now, EA has a long history of very linnear corporate thinking, so we'll just have to see how this challenge plays out strategically.  But it's been an impressive new look for them so far.

More to come later! 

Media Age Quote Wall

Just a quick additional note, of a great quote I heard recently.  I occasionally listen to a radio show that was rerunning "Best Of" this weekend, and heard them watch the "David After Dentist" clip from YouTube for the first time.  Note: I'd say which radio show this was, but every time I mention them to people I'm interrupted by a chorus of "You listen to THEM?!?  They're so (dumb, misogynist, disgusting, cretinous, etc.).  So you'll excuse me if I say it was just some radio show that has a producer named Sam.

Anyway, they watched this video, which is of a little boy coming off anesthesia while his father records him and laughs at the goofy things he says.  Someone asks Sam, who brought in the clip, if there has been any outrage over the father humiliating his son like this.  He says "No.  There's been remixes, but there hasn't been any outrage."

As far as the media age goes, I think that one may be funny on an Oscar Wilde level.

Always Be Closing

I've always been a fan of "The Smoking Gun."  This is the site that collects stories through publicly available court documents, mug shots, police reports etc.  It's popular amongst those who like stupid criminal stories, in fact I think they're behind a TV show called something like "Dumb Criminals."  But they get all kinds of non-criminal court documents as well, and some of the stories they have to tell are fascinating.

One of my favorites is amongst their earliest, from way back in the "1997-2003" section of the archives.  Apparently, several years ago a former employee sued a chain of bed stores in California, and to establish the character of the people he used to work for included a four page document they gave him about how to force the closing of a sale that isn't quite getting done on the merits.  Now, some of these are just goofy, like "The Ritz-Carlton canceled a big order, and we need room in our warehouse.  I can give you a special deal if you'll take it today."  And some of them are actually pretty good, like getting some beginning signals of willingness to buy and then asking clarifying questions like "Would you be paying cash or credit card" or "Would Wednesday or Thursday delivery work better for you" in order to subconsciously get the customer more into buying mode.

The document seems to have some rationale to it.  Or at least it thinks it does.  It talks about people who say they will consider it and be back, and the poor likely hood of those "bebacks" actually returning.  And then, as evidence of this danger, it offers the following statistic:

"68.44% purchase at the first store visited. 
12.89% purchase at the second store visited.
81.29% purchase at the first two stores visited.
Balance of consumers shop three or more stores."

Now, I know I'm not the most experienced marketer out there, but wouldn't most stores be pretty happy with a 68.44% rate of sale?  Not that you wouldn't love to get a crack at that remaining 41.60% (see, I can add percentages together to make my point sound valid, too), but considering 28.71 go to three or more stores they're obviously too picky to automatically shop the first store.  Really, the only customers you have a good chance at converting is the 12.89%.  Is that totally worth the risk of high pressure sales techniques?

But I'll give credit to the marketers who wrote this.  There's some good stuff included.   Like encouraging employees to not let their egos get in the way of occasionally doing a "T.O."  Which stands for "Turn Over" (include your own Terrell Owens joke here!), and means if you aren't connecting with the customer try handing them off to another sales person who might do better.  Possibly by saying "you should talk to my 'manager.'"  And apparently for a T.O., anyone can be the manager.  Nice.


What's in a name.

Noticed two interesting examples of marketing strategy through name change recently.  One good, one effective but not so positive.

First, I saw a documentary about the Broadway Musical A Chorus Line called Every Little Step.  For those of you who don't follow musical theater, Chorus Line is about a group of dancers trying out for the background chorus of a new musical.  They line up onstage and one by one tell their stories of how they got into dance, and why they love it, and what kind of rejections and stress they've had to go through.

Midway through, a character named Val has a fairly famous song about how at a previous audition they had rejected her.  She snuck a look at the ratings card they gave her, and it said "Dance: 10, Looks: 3."  So she decides to get plastic surgery to help her career and the chorus of the song talks about how much happier she is having had work done on her body. 

In the documentary, the composer of the musicals' score, Marvin Hamlisch, said it was one of the funniest songs he'd ever written, and he just couldn't understand why the audience wasn't laughing at it.  Until he looked at the program for the play and realized that by naming the song "Tits and Ass" he'd given away the punchline of the joke before the song was even sung.  So he talked to the printer immediately and had them change the song title to "Dance: 10, Looks: 3," and got exactly the surprised laughter he'd been expecting that night when Val started singing about what changes she'd had made.

The Second example is considerably less amusing.  I heard a radio commercial recently for a law firm specializing in filing personal bankruptcies.  But apparently they decided they needed to popularize the idea a bit by telling listeners that the filing was more commonly referred to as a "BK."  I'd love to hear what the "Burger King" legal department thinks of that one.

Just from a marketing perspective, this is a brilliant idea.  Make the process sound casual, common, simple.  Make it sound like no big deal, and people won't have such hang-ups about going through with it.  On the moral side, this is a very nasty process that is supposed to be scary because of the long term reprecussions it has for people.  And trying to make it sound like no big deal is at least a little reprehensible.  But I've long said that being a marketer means sometimes needing to be an expert in things that you'd otherwise find distasteful.

What's the lesson here?  I suppose it's as simple as 'choosing the way you present something on it's most basic level can have major impact on the way it's perceived.'  But the more complicated lesson is in dealing with change.  When you need to change the perception of your product, there can be no sacred cows.  Consider the option of changing anything, and everything, until you hit just the right formula for success.

Since it's April Fool's Day...

It's nice to see people get creative with a day for practical jokes.  My alarm clock woke me up this morning to Boston Rock radio station WBCN, but the first thing I heard was a Top 40 song followed by an announcer saying "We hope you're enjoying our new format here on POWER 104...all the hits all the time!"  That was a rude way to start the morning.

But like the past few years, Google's GMail takes the cake.  Each year they advertise a new service offering on the website, complete with separate web page and lots of details.  I was looking forward to it all week (last year's service to print out and mail you hard copies of your e-mails was a classic), and wasn't disappointed.  You can read about their new "AutoPilot" feature here, which will respond to the e-mails you receive and can be set to duplicate your writing style.

The joke included a description of the fictitious AI that would run the system and a FAQ describing what would happen if one user's AutoPilot response received an AutoPilot response from another user. They even mocked up a writing style control panel for the gag: 

Great work, Google.  Keeping things light hearted with plenty of techie jokes is the perfect way to keep that fresh new "Version 1.0" vibe that's always been a major psycho-graphic selling point for GMail.

Fixing what ain't broken

Naming something is a tricky business, and renaming something even more so.  I'm particularly curious about the SciFi channel these days, and their recent attempt at rebranding: changing their name to "SyFy."

This is one of those decisions with elements of "What a stupid idea" layered with "That's good marketing."  The basic concept is that they've gone for 16 years under a name that they've finally decided is too generic.  They want to build a branded empire of movies, TV, books, web presence etc., and apparently think that calling, say, their publishing arm "SciFi Channel Books" is too wordy, and "SciFi Books" would be too simplistic.  They want people to pick up a book/video game/DVD and see a brand that makes them think of all great entertainment they've gotten from this entity (whether they've ever given anyone great entertainment is a question for another blog, I know that a couple of my readers are rabid Battlestar Galactica fans and I'm not prepared to argue the point).

Now, from a purely academic point of view...this is smart marketing.  As their online press release puts it: "It also positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers across new media and non-linear digital platforms, new international channels and extend into new business ventures."

Kudos to them on the honesty.  It's not that they think there's anything wrong with the current brand, it just doesn't let them extend to other non-television businesses.  At least, that's the theory.  Honestly, the whole thing reads like it was written by MBA students tasked with updating a brand they had no past history with.

There are two main problems with this idea: A) That they are potentially alienating current fans, and B) That they didn't need this extreme a response!  More on these later.

Subtlety in package design

It's always nice to see a well thought out package add to the appeal of a product.  Take one of my personal favorite beverages: San Pellegrino Aranciata.  This is already a simple drink, 18% Orange Juice, Sparkling water, and just a little sugar.  Lighter than most sodas with a nice crisp flavor.  It can be found in a wide variety of packages, different cans, European style little bottles, etc, usually with bold colors and that big, red, San Pellegrino star prominently displayed.

But when you go pick up a six pack of it at Whole Foods in the Boston area, it looks like this:

Subtle, bright but quiet colors, a very clean look.  And one additional thing that ties the packaging perfectly to the beverage inside: a thin piece of tin foil over the top (found on this and their Lemon variety..."Limonata").  It doesn't seem like a major addition, but this one thing makes the experience totally different for two reasons.

First, it keeps the lid clean.  A small thing, perhaps.  You could always clean the lid yourself before drinking or just use a straw, or ignore the dirt and excess soda that always seem to get on the lids of cans.  But this one small detail gives you the satisfaction of not having to worry what this thing you're about to drink from has been exposed to.  And when your product is a drink that sells based on brand identifiers like "Fresh, Clean and Pure," that's a clear advantage.

Second, and more important, is the tactile experience added to the process.  Most beverages you go through a mechanical process of 'pull a lever and drink.'  With this you actually get the more organic feeling of peeling something away.  It's not quite an actual orange peel, but if your mind is wandering the sensation reminds you of half-time at a youth soccer game, or fruit at a picnic, or any memory you may have had of having to unwrap that first sweet bite of an orange.  One additional sensory anchor to go with the taste and smell and sound of the bubbles inside the can.

None of this will advertise the drink any better.  Neither of these benefits will come into play convincing the average person to purchase this drink in the first place.  But once they do...the overall experience is enhanced by one small piece of tin foil.  So one clever addition gives the product a little better chance of converting a trial experience into a dedicated customer.  THAT is a clever way to use packaging to complement the product inside the package.

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Looking Forward

I'm quite pleased to see that I'm already receiving suggestions!  Eventually I'll connect this blog to a website to allow for more options, but for now I've made one major change.  If you're a regular reader and want to be made aware of updates via e-mail, I'll be happy to add you to my mailing list!  Just contact me at mychinashopbull@gmail.com, and you'll get an e-mail when a new post goes up.

Official Note: I take privacy policies VERY seriously.  So as of now the policy is: No one will see your e-mail address except me and it will not be shared with or sold to anyone.

Otherwise here are some other suggestions I've gotten so far:

1. More visuals: Right.  I'll work on that one.  For example, here's one of my favorite ads from the "Vintage Ads" collection on Worth1000 that I mentioned recently (It's called "Mac vs Pc," by an artist from Valencia, Spain named Petrosini.  It's been re-sized, so here's the original in context).


2. A Hit Counter: I'm not sure livejournal offers that.  But I'll e-mail them about it.

3. Some shorter pieces: No problem!

4. Allow Non-LiveJournal members to post comments: Done.  Didn't even realize that was turned off as the default.  Thanks for catching that Mark!

5. The occasional piece about Advertisements with historical relevance.  What ads did we once sort of gloss over that are now interesting and remembered fondly?

As a strategic outlook for the blog it isn't exactly a SWOT or Five Forces analysis, but all ideas are helpful.  So, thanks for the suggestions, and keep them coming!


Lazy Advertising...

It's bad enough to see blatantly lazy advertising, but it's especially bad when it's for a product that you have a high opinion of.  In this case, Rosetta Stone Language Software needs to be very careful with their brand.

I've never used Rosetta Stone, but it's the sort of product I want to believe in.  An alternative way of learning a foreign language, used by the Army and the State Department?  That's the sort of thing that should sell itself!  And with their tasteful mall kiosks and rather low key commercials they used to have the image of a higher level direct order product.  Rosetta Stone fell firmly in the "This will revolutionize things" high respectability product category (I'm working on a descriptive diagram of the different levels of brand respectability, kind of like the USDA's food pyramid!).

But I was starting to have hesitations.  While "a free sample" was once a time honored technique to introduce a product to a new audience and prove its quality at the same time, over the years it has lost ground as more and more CRM driven firms use those samples to snag fodder for mailing lists.  So Rosetta Stone's constant offers of a "sample lesson" raised the specters of unending sales calls, e-mails, junk mail and other things that the average consumer has become very determined to avoid.

In fact, that's a good point, how does one still give a free sample these days?  I know plenty of people, myself included, who won't interact with a company unless they're sure it won't lead to getting sucked into yet another massive conglomerated database.  This is part of a much bigger question of where do we find the balance between CRM convenience and using "we respect your privacy" as a major selling point, and probably needs a blog all it's own.

But none of this made Rosetta Stone a problem until yesterday.  I happened to turn the radio to a different station than I normally listen to, classical music to be specific, and made the ugly discovery of a Rosetta Stone commercial featuring a man calling their hotline and asking what the "Catch" was with their great deal.  The friendly, confident telemarketer is there to assist him and ends up convincing him there is no "Catch," they will actually get a free sample and start learning a new language in minutes.

What's wrong with this commercial?  It's the exact same commercial that I used to hear on my favorite Alternative Rock station.  Except THAT one was selling ProActive Solution to fight acne!

Seriously, same commercial!  Well, different voice actors and replace 'fight those ugly blemishes' with 'learn Mandarin Chinese,' but otherwise the exact same script. 

Caller: "What's the catch?"
Telemarketer: "Excuse me?"
Caller: "I heard Rosetta Stone/ProActive Solution can cure my acne/teach me Welsh...and I get a free sample?  There's gotta be a catch!"


Honestly, I can't tell you which shocked me more...that a brand I had a high opinion of would stoop to such a lousy, non-merit based commercial, or that radio advertisers were so remarkably lazy as to recycle word for word a script for another client.  How many other products are being advertised this way to other audiences?  If I start listening to talk radio, will I hear the same ad for that "Video Professor" guy and his 'Learn to use E-Bay' tutorial?

In fact, it's often interesting to take a "media tour."  Listen to/Watch stations that you normally wouldn't specifically FOR the commercials.  Go see what other target markets get offered, and in what way.  When you realize that certain businesses (online flower delivery brands, I'm looking at you!) seem to have the exact same "special offer" for the listeners of several different stations you begin to feel much less special as a consumer.  Click the "radio mike" and enter the "special code," indeed.

Look, like everything else in image making you have to be careful who you're associated with.  If your ad reminds people of a product they don't like or don't think highly enough of, you will suffer in comparison.  This certainly isn't intended to cast aspersions on ProActive Solution...it's the same for every product your brand gets accidentally connected to.  Saving a little money by going with a cookie cutter ad isn't going to do anything to impress your customers, especially if they actually listened to the commercials you're trying to get them to hear!