Do Super Bowl commercials represent what we want anymore?

The question before the Super Bowl every year seems to be “Are you watching more for the game or the commercials?” Being a person who practices the dark arts of advertising and marketing, I’ve usually been glued for the game and the commercials. Certainly not for the halftime shows.

In the agency world, being a person behind a Super Bowl spot has always been the pinnacle. The Everest. The bragging rights. The kick-butt answer to “Have I ever seen any of your work?”

But there’s something that’s been nagging at me about Super Bowl commercials: I’m feeling more nostalgic about them in the context of the world we live in today and every day. I know it’s the one moment that’s more different for the advertising world than any other moment of the year, but it feels more removed than it ever did. Here we gather around a big screen to thirst for seeing something on TV that will wow us, thrill us and get us talking the next day.

How often do we do that on other days of the year? Are we even doing it that much after the big game like we used to? In our world of smartphones, blogging, Tweeting, YouTubing, Facebooking, Linking In and so much more, how often are we feeling this passionate about TV commercials versus having conversations with others in cyberspace?

You and I both know the answer to this. The passion we feel for social media makes a Super Bowl ad look like an old man sitting on a park bench saying, “Sit down and I’ll tell you a story about the day I aired in 1993. It was during the 2nd quarter and if I remember, the Cowboys and Bills were playing that day…”

If push comes to shove, you can take away Super Bowl ads but if you take away Facebook you’ll have people marching in the streets.

Believe it or not, I’m actually not going off on a “TV is Dead” rant here. What I’m saying is there is great irony in that, on the day in which TV commercials are the star that on so many other days of the year, they’re not the star. They’re changing. Not dead, but changing. That is, for those advertisers smart enough to recognize that and do something about it in the delivery so their Super Bowl ads have greater relevance.

How can they stay relevant? To me, a Super Bowl ad in today’s era provides its money’s worth to the advertiser in how it drives the conversation online after the show. If it’s a great ad, it doesn’t just entertain and go nowhere. That’s fine and good if we’re living in 1984 and Apple is introducing the Macintosh. But we’re not. We’re watching the game with a smartphone in our hands and it’s a golden opportunity for each and every advertiser to do something about it. We’re live blogging and live texting and live posting. And live SHARING.

It’s time for Super Bowl ads to grow up.
The best of them have got to take us to a place where we’re inspired to do more than watch and have an emotional response. That’s right. Water cooler chatter is great, but it’s time to up the ante. We have to log on no later than the next day to interact with the brand as a result of the Super Bowl ad – heck, maybe we’ll even do that right after the ad appears if it’s just that awesome.

Think about it. As much as you ever did, you’re commanding the attention of a nation. You can leverage that incredible moment to direct your audience you’ve just inspired to a place online where you want them to do something. Whether it’s posting a video of their own or posting on your Facebook page or watching the other half of your Super Bowl commercial on your YouTube channel to see what happens next, it’s an action.

That’s Super Bowl Ad 2.0. Leveraging a huge opportunity to excite people beyond the 30 seconds you’re spending with them to build momentum and new relationships online, on a large scale.

That feels like a new tradition and something brands, agencies and the people at home watching can get excited about. All over again.

Advertising on Architecture? Now You’re Reaching, Rahmbo.

When I was a kid, I read Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” It was a funny little poem that imagined a place where there’s no more ground under our feet. I’ve often wondered the same about Advertising. When it comes to placement of media in the public domain, where do WE end? Where are our limits? Do we have any limits at all?

This is no place for a giant logo.

I believe I’ve found that limit, courtesy of Rahm Emanuel’s first real blunder of his administration. To help raise $25 million toward a $600 million budget deficit, the Mayor is now allowing the placement of ads on city property that includes Chicago’s landmark bridges. So cross the Wabash Avenue Bridge and you’ll see a giant Bank of America banner on the bridge’s iconic tender house.

Oh goodie. Can’t wait until Spring, when the bus and boat tours packing tourists go by. “On your right, Ladies and Gentlemen, where you see the ultra large Bank of America banner, is the site of Fort Dearborn.”

How I wish this was Photoshopped and not real.

I know Emanuel wants to leave his own mark on the city, but this is not the anti-Daley move I had in mind. I seriously doubt our former Mayor, with his continuous intent on beautification projects, would’ve followed this path.

City Spokeswoman Kathleen Strand insulted everyone in this city’s intelligence by suggesting putting an ad on an architectural landmark isn’t all that different than the CTA allowing ads on buses and El trains.

Oh, Kathy, Kathy, Kathy. Can we talk?

You see, dear, I feel silly pointing out the difference, but in your case, apparently I have to.

Placing an ad on a public domain that devalues the experience of looking at that property is in poor taste by all parties that put it there.

Here’s your litmus test:

Do we say things like…

“That garbage can would be so much more attractive without the ads on it.”

“That bus would be beautiful without the ads inside it.”

“The ad detracts from this gorgeous Red Line train.”

Come on. You and I both know that nobody in their right mind says that. Because, let’s face it – buses, trains and garbage cans are not landmarks we’re going to put in a photo album. When my former college roommate Curtis was visiting this Summer from Indianapolis, what as the first thing he took a picture of? Our bridges. He wouldn’t snap that picture now. Not of the Wabash bridge. No way.

It’s tempting to pile on Bank of America for their role in this, but for once, this isn’t really their mistake. It’s the Mayor’s Office’s. Put yourself in the advertiser’s shoes if you will:

“Hi, this is Mayor Emanuel’s office. We’d like to offer you the opportunity to advertise on the landmark Wabash Avenue Bridge over the next month or so. You’ll have extraordinary visibility, obviously. Just give us $4,500.”

Seriously?

First of all, it’s an insult to the bridge you only asked for that much. More importantly, even if Bank of America didn’t think it was the best idea – they’re getting dibs on high visibility property for peanuts at a time when they had to pull back from a $5 monthly debit card fee fiasco. Could you really blame them for taking the Mayor’s offer?

There are more creative solutions to trimming a budget deficit. Personally, I thought trimming the City Council would be a good place to start and that would take care of a few million bucks right there. But I’ve also given the Mayor credit for his crowdsourcing effort through his budget site at ChicagoBudget.org. Yet, if the more than 10,000 ideas he got on that site, I just can’t believe that posting advertising on landmarks was one of the big ideas that rose to the top.

We’re so much better than this. There’s no doubt we need to close budget gaps and get creative in how we do it. I know $600 million isn’t going to go away. But that shouldn’t mean selling our soul by putting an ad on every available piece of real estate. And this is a veteran of the advertising world talking here, remember.

In reality, while B of A got a steal of a deal, it’s not even that great of a branding move. If you’re going to be this visible, send the audience to some place online where they can be part of a community or offer input. A web address? QR code? Anything? No. This is just a logo and tagline that obstructs what was there before and adds nothing. It’s so bad it’s basically a hair above littering, except the regular litter gets to blow away and not bother you too much.

Was it worth it? No. Is it worth ending the experiment in landmark advertising right now? You bet.

Because at the end of the day, a clear, unblocked view of the architecture is our city’s best advertising.

With Emanuel’s crowdsourcing, do we need as many Aldermen?

Around the time Rahm Emanuel took office in Chicago, news began to permeate throughout the press that the new Mayor was considering trimming the number of City Council seats in half, from 50 Aldermen to 25 Aldermen. With a city facing a mammoth budget deficit of $635 million, Emanuel had mentioned along the campaign trail that many people had wondered aloud why Chicago needed 50 Aldermen when similarly large cities such as L.A., Houston and Philadelphia operate with far less.  Chopping the Council in half won’t solve all of the city’s financial problems. Yet a new online outlet set up by City Hall made me ask what might amount to a silly question to some, but so be it:

If an online forum set up by City Hall, Chicagobudget.org, enables Chicago’s citizens to voice their ideas right to the source where those ideas can be effectively heard, shared and responded to, why do we need as many Aldermen whose primary job it is to do that? 

In case you aren’t familiar, in late July, the Mayor launched a budget idea website called Chicagobudget.org that enables residents to engage with City Hall by providing suggestions on how the city can save money. The rest of the online community can see these ideas and vote them up or vote them down.

Not long after, many people whose ideas were submitted were shocked to pick up a phone and hear, “Hello, this is Mayor Emanuel,” with the Mayor eager to discuss their ideas in greater detail. Skeptics may call this all a show, but legit or not, let’s not pretend there isn’t a degree of showmanship in politics anyway. It fueled enthusiasm and credibility for the site that yes, the Mayor is reading and if your idea is worthwhile, he’ll be calling you.

While the site focuses primarily on financial ideas, I believe Emanuel has uncovered an excellent opportunity to expand the crowdsourcing application of the website to other areas of Chicago – crime, park development, housing, transportation, volunteering and more. This Summer, I wondered in another post why Chicago couldn’t become the country’s most connected city between City Hall and its constituents, at least in a social media sense. Emanuel’s effort here is a great step in that direction and provides a crowdsourcing model for other cities to follow. It’s so successful in my mind that it begs the hard but viable question about the city government outlets in Chicago that may not be as relevant to the people as they once were. A study late last year by the Better Government Association suggests that cutting the City Council in half would save a little over $7 million alone, before we even get to the positive impact on savings it would have for operations and election expenses. It doesn’t erase $635 million, but it’s a start.

At the moment, a law drafted in 1941 says Chicago must have 50 wards. But I think a few things have changed in this town since 1941. Including the latest ward boundaries and the advent of the Internet as a communication tool.

Who knows, perhaps going around the Council straight to the people is the Mayor’s endgame all along. I haven’t had a a conversation with him and it’s not like he would admit it anyway. But let’s face it. What you have here is a social media mechanism in which people can not only express themselves straight to City Hall but in front of the city in general for great exposure. Sure, maybe it’s still their style to ring up the Alderman or trot down to his or her office. But come on. Even if they get a response, the stage here for their ideas and questions is bigger. It’s a smart political move to open up the dialogue in this manner and it’s a smart social media move to bring the community that much closer. We don’t have to point to things we don’t like in this town and say, “Somebody should really do something about that.” You don’t like it? Here’s the site. Type away. Get it front of the people who can do something about it.

The phone’s ringing so I’d better take this. Might be the Mayor calling.

Sometimes it’s not worth fighting a gorilla.

This photo from someecards.com (yes, proofers, there’s a misspelling in it, but you get the idea) pretty much sums up the “uproar” every time Facebook makes a change to their structure, layout and functionality.

We don’t have to like every change Facebook makes but this is part of the deal we’ve made with ourselves by using a service that literally costs nothing and is larger than most countries in the world. Would you rather pay for the right to use Facebook? Probably not. Even if you did, I doubt this would mean you’d have the opportunity to have your voice heard above the hundreds of millions using it. You may pay someone to help you facilitate a presence on a social networking site like yours truly, but there’s still only so much that can be done – when the sites want to make a change, they’re going to make a change. And they’re probably not going to ask you for your opinion – even though they should more often in advance.

When you do pay for services like project management tools or web hosting, you should, of course, expect more. You should expect better customization to your needs and better customer service. But wasting your time getting angry over a free social network making minor changes? Just roll with it and look at the other side of the coin – be glad that a service like Facebook is making an attempt to evolve and make things better. If not, you can employ the same practice you would in watching television – change the channel by using something else. Not that I’d recommend that if that’s where your audience is primarily living, but just saying there are options if it upsets you that much.

But in the scope of the world’s true problems, Facebook making some minor tweeks is really not a big deal.

I’d just take a deep breath and be glad it’s Friday.

1st Gen E-mail Is Over – Does Your Marketing Reflect It?

“Wait – what do you mean? Are you saying e-mail is going away? No way does e-mail go away. Everyone uses e-mail.”

I figure that’s the response I’d get from a headline like the one above. But e-mail marketing in its 1st generation form should be history. E-mail in its next generation form is where we should be thinking and how we should be acting in our marketing efforts already. Right now.

Why? Spammers and Yammer.

1) Spammers are ruining e-mail as we know it for the good marketers who have valuable messages the recipient can benefit from. The filters of unsolicited mail will only get stronger so we have to make our messaging more simple to identify with, customized as well as equipped with subscription and link mechanisms so people can continue the relationship if they so choose.

2) People won’t need internal e-mail as much with services that enable them to communicate in real-time formats like Yammer. The speed of how we connect within the company is ramping up quickly. In this internal context, regular e-mail with its lag time and ability to clog in boxes looks like a dinosaur.

Knowing this, what do we do as marketers? First, we relax. Second, we adapt to this development by equipping our e-mails and e-newsletters with springboards. In other words, we stop doing e-mail that doesn’t give people anywhere to logically go from there. Otherwise what you’re sending out there is a lot like the direct mail issue I mentioned earlier. No links to more info? No landing page or blog? No place to channel the conversation further toward an appointment and hopefully a sale? No ways to become a Fan, Follower or Connection from there? No pictures they can share or video they can watch?

Then I don’t get it.

Closing a customer when the e-mail starts and ends with that message is hard to do. Even if you’re designing it as something to be read in 60 seconds or less, you’re doing so with the intent that the person subscribe to get more of those e-tidbits. Yet, strangely, some things get sent out without them.

We should incorporate RSS Feeds into our content, giving people the ability to subscribe to us or providing even the option to choose certain sections of content that’s relevant to their world. And while we have e-mail and people use it, we need e-mail subscription sign-ups. It means we have to be more visible than ever before when it comes to producing great blogs, great videos, great e-books, great social interactions that aren’t just about how we’re having 3 for 1 Bud Light Specials tonight.

If we’re going to do e-mail, let’s do e-mail that respects the person’s time by getting in and out of the person’s life in a reasonable period. If they want to spend more time than that with us, they’ll Like, Follow, Connect, Subscribe and Download. The first interaction should not be a company’s life story nor should next steps be just about only a phone call or e-mail. That’s done as far as I’m concerned.

If all this sounds like it’s only going to get harder for you as a marketer, well, you’re right. But I see this as a good thing. People still crave answers to their challenges as much as they ever did. We just have to get smarter and more sophisticated how we pave the road from them back to our solution. We can’t blast away at them with nothing but ads that have virtually no response mechanisms or only “old school” methods like dialing a phone number. We have to create online and offline channels that enable them to learn more about us and understand our offerings – on their terms.

TV adapted. Radio adapted. Newspapers and magazines tried to adapt but aren’t doing a bang-up job of it. Now it’s direct mail and e-mail’s turn at bat.

The way we market through the mail, both in direct and electronic form, needs to change. Or it won’t matter how many days the Postal Service trims from its schedule because we won’t be effective or appreciated in any of them.

How has your brand been adapting? Or have you not yet? 

The mail system is changing forever. Not just on Saturdays.

It’s time we wish the first generation of direct mail and e-mail a happy retirement to Del Boca Vista. I recall stories of when ol’ direct made the eyes of David Ogilvy twinkle with glee. Or when e-mail came on the scene, a hot, young upstart in the electronic world.

But like all things, there’s a new generation of direct mail and e-mail taking over and doing things differently. A generation of mail made for new technologies. Therefore the people receiving their messages demand more. The people using them for marketing purposes had better demand more of themselves in how they create, strategize and measure.

Let me explain. The ways we use mail has worked well for some period of time but like anything else, they are evolving.

Younger generations such as Millennials are embracing alternative communication methods through social media and internal project management tools to get information and send information beyond the standard send-and-receive e-mail systems. They also are responding to those offline techniques that incorporate online communication for continuing the conversation and relationship. I hardly think the generations that follow them are going to revert back the other way. We’re only going to get more electronic, more segmented, more fast and more personalized.

Marketers have the choice of evolving with this development or not at their own disappointment, if not their own peril.

Bottom line: Your message will not be nearly as effective if you ignore the ways to inject more technological applications into that direct mail or e-mail while adding inbound marketing mechanisms into your efforts.

We have to act as if direct mail in its most traditional form of “here’s our message, call this phone number if you’re interested” is irrelevant right now in terms of the call to action. We have to act as if spammers are ruining the quality of e-mail communication by the day.

It doesn’t mean mail is over. It means old direct mail and e-mail marketing messages are over.

Farewell to Direct Mail Marketing as We Know It

Let’s pick up the bugle and play “TAPS” for traditional direct mail as we’ve known it – a static piece like a postcard that merely asks your recipient to call or e-mail you without leading them anywhere else isn’t working hard enough. Even before the U.S. Postal Service decides to trim a day or more from its schedule, you should be re-evaluating conventional direct mail – not whether or not to use it necessarily but how you will inject a much-needed online component into that DM.

Direct mail with no online component such as a landing page or QR Code to scan or code to enter when they get to a website for a discount/prize….is probably going to get about a 1% response rate at best. So if you want to send out some general postcard to promote your business and get awareness, it’s your dollar. But expect no less than 99 out of 100 people to pitch it in that format. It’s good to at least have that expectation so that you’re not surprised (and if you are pleasantly surprised, that’s gravy). If you want better than that, the next generation is about driving the recipient to a personalized URL. You should be doing that right now if you’re using direct mail. Do you want a static piece that provides a response at best of awareness without likely action or do you want a piece that potentially drives the person online to take action and possibly even find long-term connectivity through a social network?

In the second half of this topic in my next post, I’ll talk about why you should bid adieu to the first generation of e-mail marketing right now too.

 

 

The Daily Herald Betting Far More Than $20 Per Reader

Newspapers need a new pricing model that reflects the online age of readership.
I’ve got 3 ideas on how to help.

The front page of the suburban The Daily Herald, penned by the Editor, shouted the newspaper’s stance loud and clear: “Why our digital news cannot be free.

The 139-year-old newspaper has officially made the decision to charge for most content from the paper online. If you want to read The Daily Herald online from now on, you’re going to have to pony up $19.99 a month to do so. And by the way, no other paper in Chicagoland is charging digital readers on this kind of scale.

On paper – no pun intended – it seems to make sense that people should pay for digital content. We pay for books on news, we pay for TV and radio on news, so we should pay for papers that provide news, right?

Well…it’s not quite that simple as some would make it out to be.

Journalists and Editors say their content has value and needs to be paid for, because advertising isn’t bringing in enough revenue. Readers say the minute they’re charged money to read online content that they’ll go elsewhere to find it.

How does it all shake out?

The answer comes down to this: Is the content exclusive and original?

I have nothing against paying to read outstanding, exclusive content I can’t find anywhere else. But I have plenty against paying to read decent content that I can find elsewhere.

If a reader can get that content elsewhere from a source that isn’t charging for it, that’s where they’re going to go. So the paper has to provide content that’s spectacular and can’t be found anywhere else. Is the Herald’s content spectacular? It certainly has good columnists. But can I find solid reporting and opinions of the issues elsewhere? Honestly, much of the time the answer is yes.

The New York Times can get away with charging people a decent monthly flat rate for its digital version because it’s The New York Times. Let’s be honest. Is such a price worth it for unique reporting on the news of Bolingbrook and Hinsdale? I’m not trying to be rude here, but I’m wondering if local news reported on DuPage County is worth that investment to people these days.

Let’s look at the issue from a different medium – radio. When Howard Stern went to Sirius Satellite Radio several years back, people wondered if we’d hear the last of him as a result. Well, like him or hate him, Mr. Stern has a loyal, passionate fan base who know they can’t get Howard Stern or anything close to him anywhere else. The investment is a no-brainer for them because the content is original and exclusive. Is it working? Did you not see the gigantic contract he signed for more years on the air at Sirius?

For the same reason, like him or hate him, this is why I think Glenn Beck probably made a good move in asking people to pay for his content too.

So here are 3 ideas that might make more sense for smaller newspapers like The Daily Herald:

  • Subscribe by Columnist
    My suggestion is simple. If the columnist is good, people can pay through a Newspaper App Store to subscribe to that columnist. If the columnist is ordinary, they don’t. So there’s no waste in subscribing to a newspaper or magazine full of other stories I don’t want to read. On the other hand, if it’s a Chuck Goudie or Mike Imrem, they read who they want. Why force people to read a person who doesn’t have value in their eyes?
  • Subscribe by Story
    Come on. How much of that paper do you end up throwing away because you haven’t read the whole thing? And how many of us read the whole thing anyway? Enable us to subscribe by certain topics (or even possibly keywords) that ensure greater value for the readership because we stand a greater chance of reading what we want, when we want it.
  • Preview, then Pay
    Each story is previewed with 50-100 words, which then means the reader has the option to pay for the rest of that story if they want. I’ve certainly seen this strategy employed by other websites and if the content is powerful enough, I’ve paid to read the rest.

If structured correctly and reasonably, the newspaper actually has the ability to make more money through these methods than a flat rate. Plus, they’ll know which columnists bring more value to the paper through the quality of their stories being purchased. While it might not be free, the win here for readers is that they pay only for what they’re interested in reading.
If they don’t explore these alternatives, what you will find with the Daily Herald and other papers like them will be a smaller, more concentrated readership of people who value the content. The question of their survival will be how small that readership becomes. The paper has to go through growing pains of potentially trimming staff and printing fewer papers, but this is a natural progression of where the world is going. Bottom line: Do I see charging people $20 a month across the board to read online content as a good growth strategy? No.

To be clear, there’s still room in this world for the information put forth from journalists. No doubt about it. But newspapers have to create subscription plans that reflect readership habits of an online world, not a print one.

What’s your take? Do you agree with The Daily Herald charging $20 a month for online reading? What about charging for online readership in general? What are some examples of online content that’s worth paying for, in your opinion?