Posts Tagged ‘Advertising’

The Super Bowl Commercials Teach Lessons in How Not to Advertise

The day after the Super Bowl, I’m still recovering from the commercials. Is it my imagination, or do they get worse every year? The unavoidable conclusion is that these advertisers and their agencies have no idea what advertising as all about. It was a mélange of nostalgia, obscure cultural references, borrowed interest, and non-product-relevant humor. Ironically, consumers constructed the highest-rated ads, not professional advertising agencies.

Secrets:

The purpose of any media is to reach people and use its unique characteristics to increase product sales. The purpose of advertising — with rare exceptions — is to dramatize the unique benefits of the product in a memorable and persuasive way that causes sales increases.

The Super Bowl is no exception, even though its ads have to compete with Super Bowl party conversation, food and drink, bathroom breaks and the competing emotions that come from rooting for the winning or losing team. So, yes, Super Bowl ads have to be off the charts on the attention-getting factor. This, and their astronomical prices, puts them in a class by themselves.

But none of this absolves the advertiser from the fact that the advertising needs to be about the unique advantages of the brand.

As I look over the list of the ads, from the idiotic USA Today Super Bowl Popularity Contest, I only remember ONE ad that talks about a brand advantage: The Verizon ad, which highlights its superiority in making calls.

The reason that advertising popularity contests are idiotic is that the purpose of an ad is not to entertain. It’s to ultimately sell product. This can be done indirectly, such as by enhancing the image of the product, or directly by talking about product advantages.

When I see a charming ad like the VW borrowed interest Darth Vader ad, I’m vastly entertained. But until someone shows that entertainment causes product sales, I’m amused but skeptical.

On the other hand, when I see an ad about the Ford Focus, which tries to gin up interest in a rally they are running, I think, “When you have nothing special to say about the car, run a rally.” It’s a dead giveaway that they either have a me-too car, or an incompetent advertising agency, or both.

As I’ve written elsewhere:

Before the golden age of advertising, people just put drawings of the product in the mass media, without any benefit statements or even descriptions. Then, advertising hit its stride and discovered its true strengths: bringing dramatizations of the unique benefits of the product to the masses. It was “salesmanship in print” in the best sense. It zeroed in on the most beneficial, unique aspects of the product and dramatized them in an entertaining way that got attention. At least, the best of it did. Then, the side show took over the circus. Most of it — to this day — gave up dramatizing the benefits and went for image instead. “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” became the rallying call for the hypemeisters. Advertising lost its way and just tries to make an intrusive impression, confusing getting attention with fundamental persuasion. Advertising is now judged by its entertainment value rather than its persuasive results. For instance, after the Super Bowl each year, there are many published polls naming the commercials voted “best” by viewers. So, you can win “best commercial” and go out of business because the commercials didn’t cause any sales, as 17 out of 18 of the Dot.com companies did in 2000.

Advertising that calls attention to itself — instead of something related to the product — almost never works. Advertising history is filled with examples. Many of them won awards. But the products failed.

I thought you might be interested in reading the section dealing with the Dot-Com Super Bowl, from the 2nd Edition of The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, about to be published in March of 2011.

The Dot-Com Super  Bowl

On January 31, 2000, at the height of the dot-com boom, about a dozen dot-coms aired 30-second commercials during Super Bowl XXXIV at a cost of $2.2 million each, the entire marketing budget for some, in the hope that—with hundreds of millions of people watching—they would put their unknown companies on the map and establish a corporate identity. I was appalled and publicly called it the worst case of advertising agency malpractice I had ever seen. Either their ad agencies knew better or they should have. In either case, the agencies were, in my opinion, negligent.

The dot-com bubble burst soon after. The Super Bowl advertisers found that they could not establish a corporate identity in a 30-second TV spot. They found that they could get everyone talking about their quirky commercials all right, but that wasn’t the same as getting people to rave about their products’ benefits. With one or two exceptions, all the advertisers on that Super Bowl went out of business.

It became known as the Dot-Com Super Bowl and, in many people’s minds, it not only marked the end of the dot-com bubble, it marked the beginning of the end of the Old Marketing, perhaps symbolized best by the pets.com sock puppet.

Fortunately, the “too big to fail” mentality hadn’t caught on yet, so the dot-coms were allowed to “creatively destruct.” What nobody realized was that the dot-coms, ironically, were using the old media to sell the new media. Heck, they were the new media!

So, if you’re going to advertise, at least keep your eye on the ball: emphasize your unique benefits, in a dramatic, entertaining way. And only do it on the Super Bowl if you have a product that most of the billions of people watching can use. Don’t worry if people discuss it in the social media. Measure the effectiveness of ads — and any other marketing efforts — on trials and sales.

Surprise! Give ’em a little frisson to be Womworthy

Did you know that there is a hidden symbol in the FedEx logo?

It symbolizes speed and precision.

Once you see it, you can’t not see it. I won’t spoil the fun by pointing it out.

Spoiler Alert: If you don’t know about it, stop here and look for it.

Yes, it’s intentional. The designer, Lindon Leader, had some very interesting things to say about it.

What’s this doing in a marketing blog? Glad you asked.

First of all, it’s a great example of knowledge blindness. Once you see it, you can’t NOT see it.

Secondly, why make the insignificant significant? Why elevate a minor little surprise into a major distraction, like almost every web site?

I was struck by the question that the logo designer says he is always asked:

“Why choose to keep the arrow so subtle? It seems to show remarkable restraint. Weren’t you or the people at FedEx ever tempted to make it more obvious with an outline or a different color?”

It’s so obvious that I might not have asked the question, but I’m glad the interviewer did:

He replied that the arrow is one of the most mundane graphic devices. There is nothing unique or particularly strategic, from a marketing point of view, in an arrow as a brand identifier.

Then Lindon went on to say,

The power of the hidden arrow is simply that it is a “hidden bonus.” It is a positive-reverse optical kind of thing: either you see it or you don’t. Importantly, not “getting the punch line” by not seeing the arrow, does not reduce the impact of the logo’s essential communication. The power of the logo and the FedEx marketing supporting the logo is strong enough to convey clearly FedEx brand positioning [Speed  & Precision]. On the other hand, if you do see the arrow, or someone points it out to you, you won’t forget it. I can’t tell you how many people have told me how much fun they have asking others “if they can spot ‘something’ in the logo.” To have filled in the arrow, or to somehow make it more “visible” would have been like Henny Youngman saying “Please take my wife” instead of “Take my wife. Please.” Punch lines that need to be explained are neither funny nor memorable. (Emphasis mine).

In other words, it’s hidden, surprising, memorable, unusual. It’s one of life’s little pick-me-ups on an otherwise boring truck, envelope or uniform. So, it causes Word of Mouth. People like to point it out, or ask others to spot it. Like I’m doing now.

(FedEx did not pay for this ad. That’s the point.)

I’ve always said that FedEx didn’t succeed, as most business books state, because of its brilliant logistics breakthrough of sending the packages to a central point (Memphis), sorting there, then sending back out. They succeeded because they were beneficially unusual and constructively quirky. In those days, secretaries sent packages. They told secretaries they would look good because they would positively, absolutely DELIVER overnight. In those days, reliable delivery was as unusual as a customer-oriented phone company is today.

(On the day I wrote this, an iPhone customer got a 300 page bill, itemizing every text message, from AT&T, delivered in a box. It made the national news. No, not a FedEx box. I looked. Wouldn’t that have been perfect?)

Warning: Is Word-of-Mouth Marketing Losing Its Way?

I found the WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) conference in Washington last month both exhilarating and disturbing. I’ve been worrying about the current state of word-of-mouth marketing ever since.



It was quite a turn-on to see so many people enthusiastic about word-of-mouth marketing. But, after Andy Sernovitz’ inspiring opening remarks about the simplicity of word-of-mouth marketing – it’s all about the simple idea that happy customers recommend you, which grows your business – it went rapidly downhill for me with subsequent speakers and panelists. And in a very disheartening way.




They talked mostly about technique rather than strategy



What disturbed me was an almost total concentration on
techniques, methods and tactics rather than purpose, goals, objectives and – above all –strategy.

Granted, I didn’t see every presentation and I understand that several speakers did mention strategy. Also, in all fairness, many of the presenters on panels had only about 12 minutes to present. Nevertheless, I would assume that when you have 12 minutes, you present the most important essence of what you are doing. Also, there is tremendous pressure at a conference to give people nuts and bolts “how to’s” so that people can feel that they came away with something practical.

Nevertheless, there is almost a Christmas-morning delirium about our new toys, together with an irresistible urge to unwrap them and start playing with them. But, let’s not take our bicycles right out into the snow yet. Let’s spend a little more time on strategy.

Why? You can have a good strategy and bad tactics and still win because you quickly adjust tactics to feedback. With the right strategy, you’re in the right place at the right time, doing the right kinds of things (which may need improvement).

Conversely, good tactics will not make a bad strategy work.

You can even have a good strategy in the wrong place at the wrong time, so that neither good strategy nor good tactics will work. Think of the Iraqi war: Free markets and representative, constitutional democracies are good strategies to build nations. Getting rid of a dictator is a good first step tactically. But in the midst of conflicting religious and ethnic fanaticism, these strategies don’t work. They lead to civil chaos. The efficient, tactical win at the beginning was well executed. But the strategies were wrong.

Back to WOMMA. Even companies like Dell and Microsoft – who I respect tremendously – talked about all kinds of tactics designed to get people talking, instead of concentrating on the fundamental changes in their products that would get people to talk in ways that would cause fundamental product evangelism, loyalty and trust.

Instead, many speakers throughout the whole conference talked about artificial, superficial ways that will get people talking about how unusual the message itself was. So there is a proliferation in word of mouth circles of fancy videos, contests, and all kinds of programs that are more designed to get people talking about the medium itself — hoping that the “buzz” will somehow rub off on the product image — rather than talking about the product.

What I was craving was somebody getting up and saying, “here’s what we’re building into our product: things that will blow people away and here’s what we are doing to motivate and enable people to talk about that.” I’m sad to say that I heard absolutely none of that.

For instance, what is Microsoft building into their new operating system Vista that would get me to install it on my computer? Or, how are they going to get me to realize that a new feature that I might ignore is extremely beneficial to me, in fact so beneficial that I will rave about it to my friends? What is Dell building into its computers that would get me to buy one instead of an Intel Mac? No, they are talking about admirable and wonderful programs that keep them in touch with and responsive to various segments and niches through blogging and many other creative programs. But these are what should come after building products that are remarkable, outstanding, extraordinary and unique.

This is like advertising was before and after its golden age. Before the golden age of advertising, people just put drawings of the product in the mass media, without any benefit statements or even descriptions. Then, advertising hit its stride and discovered its true strengths: bringing dramatizations of the unique benefits of the product to the masses. It was “salesmanship in print” in the best sense. It zeroed in on the most beneficial, unique aspects of the product and dramatized them in an entertaining way that got attention. At least, the best of it did. Then, the side show took over the circus. Most of it — to this day — gave up dramatizing the benefits and went for image instead. “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” became the rallying call for the hypemeisters. Advertising lost its way and just tries to make an intrusive impression, confusing getting attention with fundamental persuasion. Advertising is now judged by its entertainment value rather than its persuasive results. For instance, after the Super Bowl each year, there are many published polls naming the commercials voted “best” by viewers. So, you can win “best commercial” and go out of business because the commercials didn’t cause any sales, as 17 out of 18 of the Dot.com companies did in, I believe, 2002.

Advertising that calls attention to itself — instead of something related to the product — almost never works. Advertising history is filled with examples. Many of them won awards. But the products failed.

In the same way, the present word-of-mouth marketing movement, I’m afraid, may be losing its way. Marketers need to spend more time creating products that are so unusually good that people will recommend them to their friends and providing the mechanisms to do so. Instead, people are focusing on the superficial aspects of our newfound ability to get people to talk about almost anything as an end in itself, in the hope that some of it will rub off on the brand.

This will be just as self-defeating as it is presently in advertising. Pretty soon there will be so much viral video and so many pseudo-sincere (or even actually sincere) company blogs that people will just ignore them. There will be so many “agents” who were given free samples, that people will learn to probe about whether they are an agent and stop listening to their friends’ recommendations.

Update: After I wrote the above, I came across this brilliant presentation of John Moore at the Jan, 2006 Orlando WOMMA conference, talking about Creationist (the hype marketers) vs. Evolutionist (people focused on the product and customer) marketing. Just one quote:

“The Creationist WOM marketing mindset is about making the WOM activity more remarkable, while the Evolutionist WOM mindset is more about making products and experiences more remarkable.”  Well worth watching:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a261ThnHGUU



Bravo, John!

It’s not about the buzz you create. It’s about creating product decision and usage experiences that cause raves. A buzz doesn’t sound anything like a rave.

Here’s another post that references the best slide decks of WOMMA, including thank you, my own. Many of the talks are strategic.

http://youblog.typepad.com/the_youblog/2007/01/abandon_all_hop.html

George Silverman

Word-of-Mouth Marketing Speaker and Consultant

Author, The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

main website:
www.mnav.com    blog: wordofmouth.typepad.com

GM revises 2005 loss to $10.6 bln after charges – Mar. 16, 2006

GM revises 2005 loss to $10.6 bln after charges – Mar. 16, 2006:

GM revises ’05 loss $2 billion higher

The automaker says actual losses were $10.6 billion; company also says it will delay its annual report due to an accounting error.

March 16, 2006: 7:27 PM EST

DETROIT (Reuters) – General Motors Corp. on Thursday revised its loss for 2005 to $10.6 billion, $2 billion more than initially reported, due to charges associated with its restructuring, the bankruptcy of its former subsidiary Delphi Corp. and its finance arm GMAC.

Over 10 Billion dollar loss last year! See what happens when you: don’t thrill the customer, engage in hype marketing and lose the WOM battle? See what happens when your top executives get a new car every few months and never have to get regular maintenance — let alone repairs — at a regular dealer? See what happens when what you experience is totally different from what your customer experiences?

See what happens when you follow Jack Trout’s advice and rely on advertising to tell your positioning story? You know, the one that no one listens to, or that no one believes?

George Silverman

Word-of-Mouth Marketing Speaker and Consultant

Author, The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

www.mnav.com

wordofmouth.typepad.com

Brand Autopsy: George Knocks Trout Out of the Water

Brand Autopsy

Here’s part of what John Moore had to say about the Jack Trout Forbes.com article attacking word-of-mouth marketing. Read the whole thing, here.

Jack … it’s not about you. It’s not about how you, or any one marketer or one company for that matter, can control consumers with marketing missives. It is about how consumers can help marketers spread marketing messages.

In today’s multi-channel, multi-dimensional environment, marketers cannot begin to place marketing messages everywhere consumers are. The costs do so are way too prohibitive. WE NEED HELP. WE NEED TO ENLIST THE HELP OF CONSUMERS TO HELP US. The game has changed from when and where marketing messages are delivered to HOW and WHY marketing messages are delivered. Some companies get this (Apple, YouTube, Google, Scion, Skype) and some companies don’t (AT&T).

Trout has been touting the marketing concept of positioning for over three decades now. I’ve studied his writings on the topic and I’m a firm believer in this positioning concept. But I believe that if a marketer has properly designed a positioning strategy for a product/service, WOM will not only get people mentioning the product’s name … WOM will also get people mentioning why that product/service matters. Dig?

Ya know … when it comes to meaningful words on Word-of-Mouth Marketing, Trout is a fish out of water.

Right on, John.

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Jack Trout Attacks WOM marketing – We’ve made it!

Jack Trout attacks Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Is Word Of Mouth All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

(Via WoM Watch)

In a dazzlingly out-of-touch article for forbes.com, Jack Trout has attacked word-of-mouth marketing. This probably means that word-of-mouth marketing is now a big enough threat to the establishment that it is worthy of attack. It’s rather sad to see such a venerable old-line marketer so out of touch. It’s also sad to think that a lot of old-line companies are going to listen to him.

I usually don’t get involved in public battles and I usually let silly assertions lie, I feel compelled to answer this one because Jack is deservedly well respected and is very influential. His remarks are likely to cause many marketers who are seeking sanctuary in the comfort of the past to rally around his assertions and make some big mistakes. As the person who is often called “The Father of Word-of-Mouth Marketing” and the author of what is widely viewed as the definitive book on WOMM and as a member of the Board of Advisors of WOMMA (not speaking in any official capacity here), I anticipate many inquires about what I think. So I might as well post it right away.

I’ll try to make my reply a reminder of WOM principles, rather than a polemic.

Read his articulate column here.

I’m reminded of the oft-quoted (I wish I knew who originated it) methods for attacking innovations.

Ignore it. Say it’s trivial. Say it’s not new. Say it’s what we’ve believed and practiced all along.

In bare-bones summary, he writes:

Things are out of hand. WOM is nothing new. The only thing new is digital communications with much more noise (he says that’s good news, for some reason). People don’t really want to “chatter” about products. WOM is sometimes negative, destroying the product. Wom can’t be controlled. It’s just another tool in your arsenal. You’re going to have to continue to use advertising because you can’t buy mouths. People stop talking about you once the next big thing comes along.

You can tell things are out of hand when there is an association and highly-attended conferences all over the world.I guess advertising is really out of hand with all of the conferences it has.

We have a new dictionary of terms to learn. From the guy who coined the most overused and misused term in marketing, positioning. (I didn’t say “unimportant,” just overused and misused.) Since when is making several important distinctions and giving them precisely defined terminology a bad thing?

He goes on to say: World-of-mouth isn’t new much less “the next big thing” that WOMMA declares. A third-party endorsement of your product has always been the Holy Grail. It’s more believable. In prior days, we used to try and find the “early adapters” for a product. We figured they had big mouths and loved to tell their friends and neighbors about their new widget.

 

(Actually, it’s early “Adopters,” not “Adapters.”) What he misses is a profound difference in the modern marketplace: you don’t find them (at great expense), they find you. Then you earn their trust and permission to talk with (not at) them. You don’t bring them to your products, you bring products to your customers. Also, “third-party endorsement” as the Holy Grail defeats his point. If it’s the Holy Grail, hasn’t he just made our point? Of course, it’s the Holy Grail. That’s what we’re saying!

He goes on to cite many products that got a lot of buzz: the Segway, King Kong, the Pontiac G6. “Unfortunately, the buzz was negative.” Here, he is supporting several principles of WOMM: It’s the most powerful force in the marketplace by far, no amount of conventional marketing will overcome negative WOM, you better pay attention to negative WOM and fix it, or your product will die. His message should be: Don’t engage in gratuitous hype because in this age of empowered customers, you will be found out fast and you won’t survive the negative WOM.

“Now for the really bad news,” he writes. “There’s no way to control that word-of-mouth. Do I want to give up control and let consumers take over my campaign? No way. They aren’t getting paid based on how many widgets get sold. If I go to all this trouble developing a positioning strategy for my product, I want to see that message delivered. Buzz can get your name mentioned but you can’t depend on much else. Not too many mouths will do a stand-up commercial about your product vs. its competitor. Nor will they check with you in advance on what to say.”

This is so colossally naive and out of touch that it’s difficult to know where to start. Of course there is no way to control WOM. That’s mostly what gives it it’s credibility and power. People know that their friends and trusted advisors aren’t going to lie to them, so they believe both the truth and relevance of that they are saying.

He doesn’t want to give up control and let consumers take over his campaign? Guess what? They already have. (See my Disturbing Memo to Marketers.)

He wants to see his message delivered. In this age of fragmented media, amid the noise he laments. Good luck. Buzz (as if that’s the essence of WOM marketing; it’s not) can get your name mentioned, but you can’t depend on much else. He’s right, if you have a mediocre product for average people.

People won’t do a stand-up commercial for you? Tell that to Apple, Sony, and the countless other products that have made it on WOM, who have evangelists coming out of everywhere. Of course you can count and count on these people.

This all brings me to my word-of-mouth on word-of-mouth marketing. It’s not the next big thing. It’s just another tool in your arsenal. If you have a way to get your strategy or point of difference talked about by your customers and prospects, that’s terrific. It will help, but you’re going to have to surround it with a lot of other effort, including, if you’ll pardon the expression, advertising. You just can’t buy mouths the way you can buy media. And mouths can stop talking about you in a heartbeat once something else comes along to talk about. I certainly would never tell a CEO, “B.J., I just put a big chunk of our budget into word-of-mouth.” If you did, all I would say is “good luck”.

The overall theme here is “Marketing Warfare.” (After all, he wrote the book Marketing Warfare). He wants command and control. His sees marketing through the lens of tools in an “arsenal.” (thanks, that’s one I’d missed. I’ll add it to my old-marketing-as-warfare slides.) He wants to buy mouths like he wants to buy eyeballs, and deploy them in a strategically positioned campaign.

He’s right about several things: WOM is not the next big thing. Neither is WOMM. Not if “thing” means tool in an arsenal. WOMM is a whole different orientation. Its growing, yes overriding, importance is a consequence of the Age of Overload, where people need to cut through the crap that advertisers produce because they don’t have time to listen to self-serving “positioning” statements.

That being said, conventional marketing is not — and never will be — dead. It DOES have to be part of a careful mix. But since WOM is thousands of times more powerful than conventional marketing and spreads for free at explosive speed, everything has to be organized around wom.

No, the next big thing is not WOM. It is Decision Simplification in the Age of Overload: Making it easy for the customer to find a solution to a problem (or desire or need), sort through the BS, try successfully and use your product pleasurably. WOM contributes to Decision Simplification more than anything else. That’s why it will continue to be — as it always has been — the most powerful force in the marketplace.

Jack, I also would say to your hypothetical CEO who is dissuaded by you from committing resources to WOM, “Good Luck.”

George Silverman

Word-of-Mouth Marketing Speaker and Consultant

Author, The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

www.mnav.com

Update: See John Moore’s very cogent comments here. P.S. The last line was very funny, John. You just couldn’t resist.

 

Standards of advertising vs. word-of-mouth marketing

September 17, 2005 |  by  |  General  |  , ,  |  No Comments

What are the standards for judging advertising? I say that advertising has one overriding standard: how much it increases the likelihood that someone will buy the product. In other words, advertising is first and foremost a selling medium, not an entertainment medium. Obviously, entertaining advertising tends to be watched and talked about. That’s why entertainment tends to creep in as a standard of advertising. Most of the time, professionals and amateurs judge advertising for its entertainment value. No. As an old ad said many years ago for an advertising agency, “it ain’t creative unless it sells.”

How does advertising sell? Advertising primarily sells by dramatizing the product’s most important, differentiating benefit. That’s what advertising does best, and better than any other medium. Think about it. All the great ads bring to life in a memorable, exciting, strikingly impressive, often larger-than-life way, the central benefit of the product — the thing the product will do for you that no other product will do as well. So, the advertisement or commercial leaves you with the impression of the product as being better in a way that will make you better in some way. Often, this dramatization is extremely creative and entertaining, but that is not the primary purpose. It is a fatal mistake to confuse creative dramatization of benefit with entertainment. Proper dramatization is almost always entertaining. But presenting the product in an entertaining way is not always beneficial to the sales of the product.

Almost all advertising awards and polls of popular commercials fall victim to this confusion, particularly around Super Bowl time.

I attended the U.S. Open tennis championship recently in Flushing Meadows, and have been also following it on television. There are some instructive marketing and advertising lessons and reminders.

First, let’s talk about the “product” itself, then turn to the advertising.

First, it’s not about the “product.” It’s all about the customer experience. It was a delight from beginning to end. I have been reading that there was a conscious effort to turn this into “Disneyland with nets.” Meaning, I suppose, turning it into an amazingly surprising customer experience. They succeeded. Clearly marked signs, ultra friendly policemen, friendly parking attendants. And that’s before we even got in. Then, hosts/hostesses in straw hats, comfortable seating, fun stuff on the Jumbotron, blue courts for visibility, allowing spectators to keep balls accidentally hit into stands, each winner hitting three autographed balls into the stands, specialty foods, etc. It seems that every single area, from the broadest picture of the stadium design and setting itself to the smallest detail has been looked at and rethought with customer delight and word of mouth in mind. So, it’s an excellent example of one of the secrets of word of mouth marketing: design your product for the “Wow!” that will get talked about.

Word of mouth marketing has even reached the sports stadium in the form of consciously creating a customer experience that will get people to talk. I keep meeting people who have just been to Flushing Meadow and can’t stop raving.

Let me ask you, What are you doing at the micro and macro level to create customer delight. Are you making them say “Cool,” “awesome,” “ holy s—t!”

Television coverage has also been wonderful. The camera people and announcers are just amazing. McEnroe in particular. He has a noticeable absence of many of his past unendearing attitudes. He and Tracy Austin seemed to be bending over backwards to emphasize the positive aspects of everything they are reporting upon.

The advertising, particularly the TV commercials, on the other hand, are terrible. They are so repetitive I could scream. I had to switch over to TiVo to take advantage of the lag time. The Andy’s Mojo press conference commercial for American Express is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, although it has been widely hailed by the advertising community as a big winner. Why is it so terrible? Read on.

They have nothing to do with the product, much less the benefits of the product, much less the dramatization of the most important benefit of the product. They are clearly designed to create buzz without creating word of mouth. Word of mouth is the recommendation of the product from customer to potential customer. Buzz is just getting people to talk. Why would anybody apply for an American Express card or use their existing card more as a result of this commercial? The commercial contributes nothing to the perceived benefits of the American Express card or American Express is a company, except perhaps to show the American Express is hip and with it.

The American Express Gold card “first date” commercial, on the other hand is excellent. It’s a telephone call from a man buying tickets for a first date from, apparently, an American Express ticket agent. The person makes several suggestions for events that the person could take his date to. It not only demonstrates an unusual degree of customer orientation and friendliness, but emphasizes the primary benefits of the Gold card, even listing them in text: great seats for great events, early on sale tickets, seats exclusively for you. In other words, if you get to Gold card, you have access to tickets that you would not otherwise have access to. In other words, if you get the American Express Gold card you will have advice and access to tickets you would not be able to get otherwise. The commercial could be improved by making it clear who the person is talking to and by making the benefits less jargonny and clearer. But the benefits are there. The contrast between the two American Express commercials could not be greater. The Roddick Mojo commercials are a pathetic attempt at alternative advertising without any understanding of how customers make decisions. The Gold card commercials are old-fashioned slice of life benefits commercials that do the job.

There will be a big run on US Open tickets next year. I suggest that you get an American Express Gold card so that you can get better tickets early! Now, why didn’t they have a commercial about that in the middle of the Open?

The lessons here are that the creation of buzz for its own sake is fruitless. Word-of-mouth without product benefits, as is the case with most viral and buzz marketing today, is fruitless. Advertising that does not emphasize product benefits and give people a reason to buy is fruitless. Getting clients to spend their money on fruitless “cool” stuff borders on the criminal.

George Silverman

Word-of-Mouth Marketing Consultant

Author, The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

www.mnav.com wordofmouth.typepad.com


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Advertising Can Kill Word of Mouth!

Consider this:

1. You are exposed to thousands of ads and commercials a month and only act on a very small handful.
2. You are likely to act on about one in 3-5 recommendations from friends.
3. Therefore, WOM is hundreds to thousands of times as powerful as advertising.

OK, that’s the power. Now, how about the spread?

If 25 people tell 25 people 6 times, it’s the entire population of the world!
Once 25 x 25 = 625
Twice x 25 = 15.625
3x x 25 = 390,635
4x x 25 = 9,765,625
5x x 25 = 244,140,625 (order of magnitude of pop. of US!)
6x x 25 = 6,103,515,625 (population of the WORLD!)

Obviously, this assumes that no one tells someone who has already heard. In real life, there are many duplicates, creating the impression that “everyone is talking about it,” — which they are — making action even more likely.

So, while WOM can spread at viral rates of 1.1 times, successful WOM campaigns are explosive. Gladwell and everyone else got the math wrong. It’s not viral marketing, it’s nuclear marketing. Advertising (at least print) has miniscule pass-along rates. Broadcast commercials have none. Successful WOM is not only explosive, but thousands of times more powerful.

So, why would you ever want to kill WOM? Yet, that’s precisely what saturation advertising and sales campaigns do. Past a certain point of creating initial awareness, if advertising and other traditional marketing efforts are perceived as saturation campaigns — as they are with virtually all new drugs, for instance — they kill WOM. Why, especially when we always thought that good advertising stimulates and complements WOM?

Because people tell other people about things they think they don’t know about. If you tell someone about something that they already know about, you look stupid. So, for instance, a doctor is not going to tell another doctor about a drug that he/she already knows about. In other words, people stop talking about things that are no longer news. Certainly something that is getting saturation exposure is not going to get talked about.

I’ve been designing WOM campaigns for more than 35 years, yet only understood this in the last few years. It’s always been very hard to get WOM going when my client is sending salespeople around, sampling heavily, giving out coupons and taking double page spreads in every magazine in sight. My smaller clients have always done much better, and I never knew why.

So, advertising is not only increasingly ineffective, it is destructive to sales, even if it is increasing sales, and everyone is thrilled. It may be the case that if less advertising were done, more and better WOM campaigns could do much better.

Saturation advertising has other negative consequences. These days, it causes people to wonder, “If their product is so good, why do they have to keep reminding me?” and “Why are they wasting so much money on advertising? Why can’t they put the money into improving their product?”

Jeff Bezos of Amazon has the right idea. He has always found (he’s actually tested) that money put into surprising people with free shipping and other service improvements has a much better return than advertising (which also has a return, but much less).

The ad people will say, “Oh yeah, prove it.” I can’t, yet. The data I have can’t be released. So, at the moment, my case has to rest on common sense and experience.

If the WOM community can develop and release data, it would be devastating. So far, we are making the case that WOM is more powerful, spreads faster, and is a lot cheaper. But if clients saw that they were potentially killing the Golden Goose, instead of hedging their bets by running parallel traditional campaigns, the whole world of marketing would open up. In fact, I think that today’s savvy consumer would realize that ads are for me-too, unremarkable products, and that no product that was worth talking about would be wasting their time and money on saturation ads.

Am I saying, “Avoid all advertising and other traditional promotion.”? No. Advertising should compliment WOM (WOM being the primary medium). Ads shoud give testimonials, stories and other WOMworthy content. Ads should stimulate customers to talk to other customers, reminding them how happy their friends will be after they get the kind of demo, for instance, that only a friend can give. So, the right kind of advertising can support the WOM and be subservient to it. No ad should ever be considered that doesn’t contribute to WOM.

Now, I’ve done it. I won’t even be able to walk down Madison Avenue.

George Silverman,
President, Market Navigation, Inc.
Author, “The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing.”
wordofmouth.typepad.com
www.mnav.com

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