The Social Clearinghouse

Infographics have become an increasingly prevalent trend, offering a snapshot of data relevant to consumer behaviors and consumption patterns. As social media platforms begin to peak with record breaking valuations, infographics help illustrate the data in way that marketers can digest. Marketers who have traditionally used gut instinct to determine marketing spend are now relying on data largely driven by technology and social oriented platforms.

Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, SocialCam, You Tube, and even dating sites like Match.com or eHarmony have become a clearinghouse for big data encompassing demographics, preferences, consumption behaviors, etc. Marketers can leverage this user intelligence to hone strategies and develop future approaches. Data illustrating the wants, needs, and expectations of users/consumers enable marketers to create purposeful, impactful, and even contextual messaging to inform purchase decisions.

The potential pitfall associated with so-called “big data,” for marketers, is assuming that the collection platform is the right marketing vehicle to reach those same consumers. Consumer preferences, behaviors, or demographic information collected from one social platform may not be the best mode for reaching the consumer base. Facebook, with over 900 million users, is one of the largest data collection platforms in the marketplace, but as exemplified by GM’s recent announcement of its withdrawal from the social network , it isn’t always the best platform for advertising.

As technology continues to revolutionize how data is collected and presented, marketers must remember that the real value lies in how information can be digested within context to better target a consumer base. When trends change and social is gone, marketers who understand the value of data will be in the driver’s seat.

All Filler for Miller

Watch a set of advertisements during any major television event, and you are bound to see a spot for a Budweiser, Miller, or Coors product. Domestic macrobrewers have notoriously gigantic budgets for ad campaigns, and in terms of sales of their flagship offerings, the rate of return on investment is excellent.

Initially introduced in 2007, Miller 64, Miller Brewing Company’s foray into the ‘ultra-light’ beer market is named after its total calorie count per 12 fl oz. Originally dubbed MGD64, it was launched nationwide after favorable testing in Miller’s home base of Wisconsin. Supported by the usual multi-million dollar ad campaign, everything went according to plan for the brewing giant, right?

Wrong. Within a market increasingly in favor of higher quality craft beer , the product has never gained true traction with consumers. Often perceived as ‘watered down,’ weighing in at only 2.8% ABV, the beer has struggled with its image as a serious option. In the roughly 5 years since its introduction, Miller has rebranded the product multiple times, each iteration failing to increase sales in any meaningful way. The company also attempted to capture a set of non-beer drinking drinkers with a 64 calorie “lemonade” malt beverage under the same brand, but the effort was fruitless, leading to a near instantaneous discontinuation.

Sales of the golden swill were down double digits in 2011, so Miller elected to redesign the brand with an updated label design (a key indicator of brand loyalty in the beer industry) and a new ad campaign. The latter, centered around a catchy ‘sea shanty’ song, features active and attractive 25-35 year olds, but in addition to the actors, the lyrics to the tune and the slogan “Brewed for the Better You” make it obvious that Miller has a clearly defined new target demographic in mind.

Notwithstanding Miller’s spirited efforts to make Miller 64 work, the most glaring issue is the evidence that the market for these products is extremely slim, if not entirely nonexistent. Even in spite of a health-crazed society, ‘healthy beer’ is a fairly obvious oxymoron, and very little can be done by advertising to popularize it on a large scale. By contrast, the popular SkinnyGirl cocktail brand, offering lower calorie mixed drinks, hit all the right notes with a similar target demographic, enough to merit a reported 120 million dollar purchase by Beam Global last year.

So when is enough enough? It seems that occasionally, even when armed with the influence and funding necessary to push a product on a global scale, marketing can fall short of a product that doesn’t fit consumer wants, needs, or expectations, and the best course of action is simply to let go. In this case, the payoff from the latest endeavor remains yet to be seen, but it may be time for the diluted barley beverage to go the way of its predecessors: down the drain.

QR Codes: From Passé to Practical

Nearing the end of 2011, QR Codes (short for Quick Response Codes) were the red-hot new word in the marketer’s vocabulary. The 2D matrix-type barcodes were beginning to appear everywhere, from traditional places for print marketing such as corkboards and city busses, to newer locations like storefront windows television screens. Armed with smartphones that have put barcode scanning technology in the hands of the masses, audiences engage with the codes in impressive numbers; more than 14 million codes were scanned in July 2011, and the number is growing.

Plugged-in advertisers everywhere have jumped on board with QR codes, and the popularity of the useful tool has hit a fever pitch. As these little black and white boxes continue to make their way into prominence, it will become increasingly important to design a strategy that takes advantage of their strengths while avoiding their potential pitfalls. Here are a few general rules to keep QR code marketing effective:

–  QR Codes require context. An advertiser cannot simply place a code somewhere and expect the average smartphone user to pull out their device and scan it. Even if the code is placed somewhere relevant to the audience’s interests, QR codes require context. Placing the code within visual media with a focused message and smart design will motivate audiences to scan.

– All links directed through QR codes must be optimized for mobile platforms. The overwhelming majority of devices used to scan codes are smartphones, tablets, and other “unplugged” technologies. A destination that has poor usability or compatibility is an instant turn-off.

– QR code marketing must be directed towards a specific user base. Not all demographics are keen on QR codes; the younger and more tech savvy set are the early adopters and the obvious target, but for Baby Boomers and other more set-in-their-ways groups, ad dollars may be better spent in more traditional arenas.

– Good QR code marketing is closely tied to social media marketing. Codes are a fantastic way to create an impactful relationship with an individual who scans by immediately directing them to interact with your brand on a social network.

– Be creative! QR codes can be expressive, interactive, and clever. Most scanning applications have excellent error tolerance, meaning greater functionality while allowing for plenty of customization. Colors, shapes, and sizes can all be modified to create a code in line with branding, leading to a more attractive incentive for users.

    QR codes will continue to grow in prominence as they are integrated into marketing and advertising strategies. Following these tips, a brand can stand out from the crowd and capture their desired audience.

    NCAA Basketball ‘Madness’ is a Slam Dunk

    Over the years, the early spring ritual of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship has grown exponentially in scope and popularity. “March Madness” is now the second most popular sports event after the NFL Playoffs and their culminating championship event, the Super Bowl. Much like the Super Bowl, March Madness has managed to become a massive business unto itself, monetizing the annual competition through branding and advertising that resonates with the public’s love of sports. The NCAA’s latest television rights agreement for the tournament is worth $10.8B over 14 years.

    So how did the NCAA manage to parlay basketball games played by unpaid athletes into a multimedia event that garners as much as $650M in ad spending from more than 280 unique advertisers?

    First, the entire tournament is thoroughly branded, with terms like ‘Madness,’ ‘Bracketology,’ ‘Sweet Sixteen,’ ‘Elite Eight,’ and perhaps strongest, ‘Final Four’ heavily permeating the lexicon of the media in the month of March. Largely through word of mouth, now including across extensive social media networks, fans everywhere focus their attention, filling out brackets and investing themselves in the tournament. Advertisers know the level of engagement is abnormally high, presenting a fantastic opportunity to convey a message to a receptive audience.

    Media coverage of the event now spans four television networks (CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV) as well as radio, online channels at cbssports.com, espn.com, and even mobile apps featuring live updates and streaming video. Viewers are tuning in to watch what unfolds in record numbers, with most of these channels running completely ad-supported. Tie in the aforementioned social media engagement, with strong trends across Twitter and brand interaction on Facebook, and the formula for why March Madness commands the attention of the marketing and advertising world is clear.

    Despite its status as a not-for-profit organization, the NCAA has transformed its humble basketball tournament into a smartly marketed, highly profitable annual event that trumps the postseasons of 3 of the 4 major North American sports leagues. Businesses across industry should keep some of the tactics employed by the NCAA in mind while filling out their brackets each spring.

    Less than Oscar-Worthy

    Sunday’s 84th annual Academy Awards were not only a golden night for actors, directors, and producers, but also a major event for advertisers. ABC’s broadcast of Hollywood’s biggest night provided a captive audience estimated by Adweek to be made up of nearly 70% women, including a large majority between the ages of 18 and 49, one of the most crucial demographics for advertisers. Despite airtime during the show costing less than half as much as Super Bowl spots, the cost to advertisers per viewer was still higher than the big game, the year’s marquee advertising event. However, the opportunity to reach an extremely targeted audience of more than 37 million people at a reasonably low cost is highly attractive to larger ad spenders such as McDonalds, Samsung, and Coca-Cola.

    JCPenney was the evening’s largest spender, marking its 11th consecutive year of advertising the Oscars by introducing its innovative new pricing structure. It aired 5 spots in total, with one main ad featuring Ellen DeGeneres followed by four separate pitches for its new spring line of clothing. The ads, however, lacked the punch of a Super Bowl-type spot. Hyundai, whose Super Bowl campaign was considered among the best, also fell somewhat flat, showing a strange albeit humorous ad that came up short of the bar set by their lauded efforts earlier this month.

    Between advertisers coming up short of the mark and the less-than-impressive integration of real time discussion amongst the audience through social media, the 2012 Oscars felt like a missed opportunity. In step with the theme widely speculated upon by the media that the show would suffer from a weak field of films, having no real blockbusters up for awards, there seemed to be no advertising or marketing effort striving to take home the trophies either. Although the Oscars are still without doubt one of the most important dates on anyone’s calendar, 2012’s edition was a missed opportunity.

    Advertising’s Biggest Night in Hollywood

    On Sunday evening, the red carpet will be rolled out for Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars, as it is each year at the mother of all entertainment industry events, the Academy Awards. Following the ad world’s largest spectacle, the Super Bowl, the awards show is a prime opportunity for advertisers to carry over momentum with consumers and make an impact.

    The majority of this year’s nominees for Best Picture and the other major honors are far from blockbusters; works like The Artist and Midnight in Paris attract an older, more mature crowd. Generally speaking, the less mainstream appeal of the films up for the Oscars, the fewer viewers should be expected to tune in, making the show somewhat less attractive for advertisers when the marquee acts lack the popular punch of an Avatar or Forrest Gump.

    Sprint and J.C. Penney are among the larger advertisers rolling the dice on the 84th annual installment of the ceremonies with previously unaired spots for brand new campaigns. However, despite the all-important statistic of viewership numbers being somewhat up in the air compared to previous years, there are other factors at play that can make the Oscars a special opportunity.

    Besides the awards themselves, the ceremony draws the attention of the entire fashion industry as well as the eager eyes of the celebrity gawkers and gossipers as the stars and personalities make it a point to show off their style on their way into the awards. Each year, media coverage of who is wearing what nearly outshines the awards themselves. Plenty of discussion will take place on the internet as well, as social media is expected to be deeply incorporated in 2012’s broadcast, increasing the audience size and participation through a secondary outlet.

    Hyundai rolled out an iPad app demonstrating its new Equus sedan during the 2011 Oscar broadcast; it was an intelligent integration of a campaign that began during the Super Bowl and continued to captivate through this second major media event of the year. Given the size and engagement of the program’s audience, Hyundai’s effort was well received. Autotrader.com claimed Hyundai as the winner among the numerous car manufacturers who spent fortunes advertising during this year’s Super Bowl.

    The Academy Awards is the Super Bowl for directors and actors.  After all of the envelopes are opened, which advertisers will rise to critical acclaim?

    Love Is in the Air

    Valentine’s Day is often accused of being a ‘manufactured’ holiday, created for the purpose of exploiting consumer behaviors for profit. The occasion is certainly profitable, but the ambiguous St. Valentine gets a bad rap for all the wrong reasons.

    Holidays are exceedingly powerful stimulus for retail businesses. This holiday in particular capitalizes on arguably the strongest human emotion – love. As it turns out, consumers love celebrating Valentine’s Day. Against the trends associated with a weak economy, consumer spending on the occasion is on the rise. In 2012, the second largest retail event of the year will generate more than $15B, which amounts to an average of more than $100 spent by each American adult.

    There are no other major consumer holidays in the first part of the calendar year (sure, car dealerships may offer sales for President’s Day, but you don’t have to buy your mother a gift.) Valentine’s Day also falls conveniently right after the hangover from December’s holiday season subsides. Retailers enjoy the benefits of the renewed consumer enthusiasm, leveraging the familiar branding of red and white hearts to drive sales.

    Advertisers are equally satisfied with the opportunities that the holiday presents. Immediately following the ultimate advertising event, the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day presents a chance to strike again while the iron is hot. Having already rolled out new expensive and impressive campaigns, the creative juices are kept flowing in order to make a connection with the consumer at yet another touchpoint. The timing is right; some of the ads that emerge for Valentine’s Day even manage to be as original and effective as those crafted for the Super Bowl.

    Notwithstanding the accusations aimed at the ‘industry’ of Valentine’s Day, the holiday is more important than just giving spouses across the country a romantic opportunity; it is actually highly beneficial across a number of industries. Whether from the perspective of the retailer, the advertiser, or the consumer, the appeal of the day is clear.

    The Most Important Super Bowl Ad You Didn’t See

    An unlikely advertiser graced the Super Bowl advertising line-up with a message far different from the usual players. It may not have made the same splash as the Top 5 Picks for the best Super Bowl spots; in fact, it was wasn’t even seen by most viewers.

    The Kauffman Foundation (Kauffman) has long since been an organization serving as an advocate and supporters of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial programs. As a $2 billion non-profit, Kauffman elected to spend $400K on a 30 second spot aired in 4 major markets: New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Kansas City.  The advertisement asked a simple question of aspiring entrepreneurs: Will It Be You?

    The message calls on viewers to consider small business as an option and take risks to become the next great entrepreneur. Even if Kauffman was successful in reaching just a portion of the record-breaking number of viewers on Super Bowl Sunday, it succeeded in opening a door for new advertisers looking to mobilize specific target segments.