I Scream, You Scream

31 01 2012

Sometimes a company’s advertising drives people to their doors. But sometimes their advertising simply drives people crazy. The question, though, is whether the latter can still be working good in spite of it seeming so bad.

Case in point: JC Penney’s latest ad touting their Big Announcement coming tomorrow. In the ad, JCP uses screaming to great effect to make the point that missing out on a sale can be an agonizing experience.

“Great,” of course, is debatable. But one thing’s for sure: it sure is getting JCP a lot of attention.


To be honest, the screaming sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. And that’s what makes this ad worrisome, because JCP runs the chance of its message being lost amid a sonically displeasing experience.

The message is no biog secret, as business media have been telling us for several days now that JCP is ditching regular sales in favor of EDLP (Every Day Low Prices). The story is that JCP is going to slash everything 40% and then just leave it there. The sale begins tomorrow…and runs until infinity.

It’s not an entirely new pricing strategy, for sure. Walmart pioneered the concept some two decades ago. Target quickly followed. It reduces the need for advertising, as well as entirely changes the scope. Whereas sale-driven ads focus on a short-term objective (get over here now!) to purchase selected items, EDLP advertising can turn to featuring items rather than focusing on specifics. It’s the difference between saying these dresses or pants are $40, and just saying “Look at all the nice men’s and women’s clothing we have!”

There has also been much discussion online about whether EDLP will alienate some customers who thrill at the notion of a short-term incentive, but bristle at the thought of their store now having something in common with Walmart.

Next thing you know, JCP will have little smiley faces all over the place, and vested workers bedazzled with collector pins asking if you need a cart.

Still, given that JCP is in a huge battle with Kohl’s, and would love to have WM and Target customers trade up, this is probably not a bad pricing strategy. In fact, the people who should be the most nervous are those who sell traditional advertising (e.g., newspapers and TV), because EDLP does not lend itself to the repetitive advertising that sales-driven strategies require. It’s all about reinforcement at this new level.

And that’s something JCP could stand to do a little more. As it stood, the little contest they are Kohl’s were in with sometimes twice and thrice weekly adverts in the local paper can make shoppers weary. never mind that it sends a different kind of negative message, that being one of desperation.

While the screaming shoppers got on my nerves long before the 30 seconds had expired, I do not fault JCP for getting my attention. But I will admit to thinking I could have been happier if they had served it up with a nice big bowl of ice cream.

Dr “And A Little Pie” Gerlich


Pirates Without A Care Of Being

30 01 2012

You would think that in the post-Napster era, we all would have learned our lesson about piracy. Stealing is stealing, whether it is digital or tangible. Never mind that it is beyond simple to do it. When it comes to intentional “sharing” of content (music, movies, video games, etc.) for the express purpose of circumventing established, legal means of distribution (i.e., paying for it through authorized vendors), then the big foot of the law needs to kick some butt.

Which is exactly what happened when the feds shut down Megaupload recently. In recent days, the opulent, carefree lifestyle of Kim Dotcom has exposed Megaupload for what it really is: a get-rich scheme for a group of smart-ass hackers.

Kim won the support of many hip-hop artists because he promised to put their music in the hands of fans by bypassing standard middlemen. Ironically, though, what Kim did was create a new middleman…Megaupload…and while the rev share was more favorable for artists than through conventional means, it made Kim and his partners-in-crime fabulously wealthy. The artists may have made a few more bucks, but poetic justice is not always legal.

Under the guise of subscriptions for faster downloads and broader access to content, Megaupload sold $150 million of these memberships, along with another $25 million in ad sales.

Arguing that Megaupload is “only” a cloud repository of content (effectively a virtual locker), they contend they are merely providing a service to their 180 million members.

But the implicit wink-wink of it all did not fly with authorities, who saw it for what it really is: a global house of digital promiscuity.

Interestingly, the New Zealand sting came down precisely when the SOPA/PIPA controversy filled American airwaves (and numerous popular sites went black for a day). Megaupload, though, is not the innocent little site owner who accidentally (or even willingly) posts a video with a copyrighted music bed. It is a fence for stolen content. Once a user sneaks a peak or listen, it is hot.

In the first decade of this century, the RIAA scared the daylights out of average people like you and me by targeting grandmothers, 8-year-old kids, and everyone in between…all for posting songs to music sharing sites. The RIAA sought compensatory and punitive damages for what it argued were lost sales.

And it won.

While the wording of SOPA/PIPA may have been confusing and unnecessarily scaremongering, its intent was good. It needs to be re-worked so that there is no fear that sites like Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and others are not mercilessly slashed and burned. On the other hand, we need for more shut downs on the order of Megaupload to send the message that piracy is still piracy.

Regardless of whose seas on which it happens.

Dr “Pay As You Go” Gerlich

The Couch Potato’s Dream Come True

29 01 2012

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. I’ll counter that irony is a dessert best served with chocolate syrup.

Who would have thought that it could pay to be a TV-surfing couch potato? But thanks to the new Viggle app, it’s now possible for the laziest among us to be king among the slackers.

Viggle is the brain child of former American Idol exec Robert Sillerman. The idea is that viewers should be rewarded for watching what they like to watch. And to that end, Viggle rewards viewers with points, and for every 7500 points earned, they receive a $5 gift card from among several partner retailers, restaurants and coffee shops.

Of course, if your inner bum expects to get rich off this scheme, think again. You only get 2 points for each minute watched, which, after some math gymnastics, means you’re getting paid a whopping 8 cents an hour to sit on your duff.

Here’s how it works: If you already have Shazam (music) or IntoNow (TV) on your phone, you are already familiar with the listening and matching technology. After initializing your Viggle account (inputing ZIP Code and TV provider), all you have to do is tap when you’re watching…and then tap each time you change channels.

Remote control-hogging males may have a problem here. This is beginning to sound a little bit like work.

The market researcher in me, though, is fascinated at what this portends. So, like a good marketer, I quickly downloaded this app and took it for a test drive.

New users get 1500 points just for signing up. More points can be earned for watching featured shows, for recruiting new users, for posting to your social media page, and for watching partner video ads. The app is also littered with other static display ads, which shows these guys have thought long and hard about their rev model.

So I flipped over to Phineas & Ferb, a kids show with enough double entendres to keep parents happy. Someone I know got me hooked on this show. But Viggle choked right out of the gate, thinking I was watching The Chuggingtons instead. They owe me 2 cents.

But then I flipped over to The Weather Channel, and it not only correctly identified the station, but also the segment (Weekend Now). Bingo! All I have to do remember to tap my app every time I watch TV, and I will drowning in free SBUX lattes.

Coming on the heels of Google and Facebook’s recent announcements of data merging and more finely targeted ads (if you don’t believe me, just head to YouTube while leaving your Gmail open…you will be amazed), Viggle is a marketing researcher’s fantasy. Sure, we have long been willing participants in other people’s research (count how many loyalty cards you have in your purse or wallet). And many among us have been more than happy to help television researcher A.C. Nielsen by filling out viewing log books for a couple of bucks. But Viggle completely raises the bar.

No one can complain about companies and their knowledge of us, for we so happily share everything we do. We post our comings and goings to Facebook. We tell Safeway, Albertson’s and Kroger about our family and its grocery preferences. And now, for a few pennies, we give broadcasters a seat in our living room.

OK, I’ll say it. We have become information whores.

At the same time, I have two words to say to Sillerman: Sheer genius! By bribing people with lattes and cheap gift cards in exchange for their viewing information, he has scored a coup. This information is priceless to marketers, and we have become assembly line workers in the sweatshop of data mining.

I sincerely doubt I will use this app more than a few times (my marketing curiosity is piqued, so I must chase this rabbit for a few minutes at least). I would like to think that I am worth a little more than 8 cents an hour on the sofa.

Dr “Changing Channels Now…” Gerlich

Broadcast Yourself

29 01 2012

The problem with citizen journalism is that it puts a microphone in the hands of every person with an internet connection. The flipside is that they just might strike it rich.

Well, “rich” may be stretching it, but for folks like Tay Zonday (aka Adam Bahner) and his huge online hit Chocolate Rain, it is possible to earn a modest living. And as is sometimes pathetically apparent, you really do not even have to be good.

Basically, YouTube has turned into an entrepreneurial zone, a Wild West in which anyone with a video camera and a few ounces of creative license can blaze a path toward stardom and wealth. In the case of Zonday, it can mean a survivable income (YT has a rev share program for some 20,000+ partners, and pays $1-3 for every 1000 views). Others, though, like Dane Boedigheimer’s Annoying Orange, have many millions of views. Can you say cha-ching?

You may start wondering why the hell you stuck it out this long in college.

It’s almost like YouTube has become an underground Hollywood. Some YT stars have in fact pulled up stakes and moved to LA to be closer to the action (in hopes, no doubt, of joining the mainstream entertainment industry).

With 48 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute, the odds of you or me or anyone else becoming famous are rather slim. The viral model will have to kick in for this miracle to occur. But it does. Each and every day. And that’s the beauty of it.

And it is also rather generous of YouTube to have a rev share program with its heavy hitters. After all, they are generating traffic, and this gives these folks incentive to keep producing potentially viral content.

More than anything, though, it reiterates the change among us: We no longer need reach for establishment media to get our fix, be it news or entertainment. This fact alone should send quivers up and down the spine of the Fourth Estate as well as Hollywood, because it means we are all potential competitors. That Gogle is willing to partner with over 20,000 bespeaks the magnitude of this revolution.

Things will never be the same in print or on the screen.

And it also means I need to get the creative juices flowing, because there is hope that even a mere mortal such as me might one day score a viral hit. I know I can do better than Mr. Zonday. We have umbrellas for that kind of stuff.

Dr “Share It and Subscribe It” Gerlich

Social Bowl 2012

27 01 2012

The first Sunday of February is a very special day. It’s the Super Bowl of Marketing. Advertisers pay up to $3.5 million for a 30-second spot. It’s the biggest roll of the dice all year, with new campaigns launched and no punches held back.

If you watch carefully, you may also see a little football going on.

This year, though, promises to be a little different. Sure, we’ve had a few years now of UGC (User-Generated Content), as well as some calls to hop online to see more. But now the big push is to tie Super Bowl advertising in to social media.

And part of me wonders if this is a risky move. Never mind that I teach social media and have an account on just about every site.

So what’s the problem? Simple. As soon as you invite (OK, beg) viewers to pick up their mobile device and start tweeting or posting status updates, you run the risk that they will become less and less engaged with the game, and more into Twitter and Facebook.

“Oh, did someone just score? I must have missed it. I was busy tweeting.”

And therein lies the risk. Sure, marketers may be able to drive viewers to fan pages and Twitter, but once there, what are the odds they will drift off to see what else is happening on the social graph? Heck, after a few minutes, you may as well just turn off the TV and go to bed.

With your phone,, of course.

The old school marketer in me says that we should be trying to engage viewers on the 52″ LCD in our living rooms, and not the 3-inch iPhone in our hand. Marketers are betting the farm on this one broadcast, and to risk losing them to an app is simply more risk than I would be willing to shoulder.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love social media more than the next guy. I made sure to get my Facebook vanity name at 12:07 am that day when they became available a couple of years ago, lest some other Nick Gerlich (there is another one) grab it before me. But when faced with the possibility of twittering away tens of millions of dollars in one evening, I begin to shake.

Well, not too much. It’s not my money. But I can imagine a certain fremdsh√§men feeling coming on when I see marketers do it anyway.

Rather than send people scurrying for their phones during the game, maybe they should be directing folks there after the Gatorade jug has been poured over the winning coach’s head. The goal is to captivate audiences, to keep them riveted to their seats, eyeballs aimed directly at the big screen.

And if anything, Twitter and Facebook should be noticeably quiet during the game, not as busy as LA freeways. Besides, regardless of which teams play, the ads are likely to be great. I’ve got a 50-yard-line seat reserved (aka Dad’s Recliner), and I want to see the marketing action.

We can tweet about it later.

Dr “That’s What’s Happening” Gerlich

#McHating It

26 01 2012

The grapevine has always been the perfect metaphor of informal human communications. It grew quickly and could cover an entire trellis in no time. In the old days, people had to gather at the fence or watercooler to share their gossip.

That all changed in the 80s when online BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) came along, thereby allowing pioneer home computing enthusiasts to meet at the electronic watercooler. Listservs quickly followed, and then over a decade later, social media sites.

Which is another way of saying that all bets are off when it comes to squelching a bad rumor or any other potentially damaging information. Literal grapevines never grew so fast.

The latest victim of this sobering reality is McDonald’s, who naively invited people to rock the #McDStories hashtag on Twitter. McDonald’s may as well have let people air their dirty McLaundry on live television.

Note to anyone involved in corporate communications: this is how crises happen. And a good case in point: Lowe’s and their December debacle in which they pulled advertising from TLC’s All-American Muslim. The Twitterverse and Facebook were abuzz with thousands (think close to 30,000) biting comments from people either against or in support of Lowe’s (you can take our survey on this here).

Lowe’s eventually removed their statement from its Facebook page long after it had already spun out of control. But while a company has the power to do that on FB, it is entirely powerless on Twitter because users can create hashtags that no one owns.

Basically, on Twitter the barn door is always open, and the horses run freely. For McDonald’s to be so daft as to create its own hashtag and then encourage participation is just ludicrous. It betrays their utter and complete misunderstanding of social media. To no surprise of anyone who gets social media, people are ripping McDonald’s a new one.

Gone forever are the days of communications being a one-way street (and owned by the corporation). Citizen journalists and critics have microphones and amps as loud as or louder than anything a company owns. And once a hashtag runs off the road, it is nearly impossible to regain control.

The Hamburglar is at large, and Ronald needs to figure out how to manage the situation.

Dr “#unhappymeal” Gerlich

Ad Nauseam

25 01 2012

Who would have thought 20 years ago, when most of us had yet to even hear about email, much less even have one, would one day find our online activity to be fodder for advertisers. Heck, advertising was once a crap shoot, more shotgun than hire-powered rifle. Messages were broadcast, not narrowcast. And if per chance a marketer got lucky, then they could giddily skip to the bank.

Not so today, for each and every word we type online or on a mobile device is fair game for advertisers on which to pounce. Of course, we have known this for sometime already, with carefully placed ads beside our Gmails and Google results, as well as in the right pane of our Facebook pages. But now it’s going to get more interesting.

Yesterday, within hours of each other, Facebook announced its Timeline will soon become mandatory, and Google informed us it will merge user data across services.

And some of you just yawned. Why? Yes, I admit. A lot of this has already been going on. I learned this a long time ago whenever I would be logged in to my Gmail, but then open a new tab for Google or YouTube. Because my browser (note that word) was logged in, Google was actively capturing everything I did within those other services. That’s how it tracked my specific searches, as well as videos watched or searched on YouTube.

And you wondered how YouTube’s suggestion was so good.

As for Facebook, they have been mining keywords for a long time, explaining how I started seeing ads for Sudoku puzzles the day after I bragged about my oldest daughter’s mental prowess on those addicting numbergrams.

Just last week Facebook announced 60 more partnerships for “frictionless” apps, meaning that partner apps with whom we agree to share our information will automatically post our actions to our Wall. Interpretation: read an article at Yahoo News, and your FB friends will all know about it.

Think about that the next time you read an article about voyeurism.

These partnerships also explain why we all know what everyone else is listening to on Spotify and Rhapsody, and watching on Netflix. It’s the ultimate opt-in…we do it once, and from that point forward, the world knows.

Facebook has actually been slow in rolling out Timeline, especially since it was announced amid much hoopla at the f8 developer conference on 22 September 2011. But Facebook failed to do its due diligence, and was quickly sued by a Chicago company called Timelines.com, to which FB reflexiveley countersued. Ouch. This all could have been avoided with a few good trademark attorneys on the payroll.

But FB Timeline will prevail (it went into public beta on 15 December 2011), and its mandatory user adoption appears imminent. I adopted mine on its December release data, and have enjoyed setting it up (along with my wife’s). Critics can fairly allege it is the “MySpacing” of Facebook to some extent, but FB’s Mark Zuckerberg is intent on making his site the online edition of the story of our life. It]s up to us to write and post it.

So what does this all mean? Simple. Basically, we must never forget that neither Google nor Facebook are in the business of search, social, videos, email, etc. They are in the advertising business, and they want to sell as much advertising as possible. Gone forever are the days of shotgun advertising to the masses. In their wake is the era of the Audience of One. You. Me. Our stories. Ads spoken directly.

And if that makes you want to puke, I suggest you keep a bucket handy. Because this is one stomach bug that isn’t going to go away.

Dr “Cover Pic” Gerlich

Watch for a comprehensive survey about Facebook changes, coming soon from your friends at MediaBuffs!