Why are only Super Bowl ads funny? Why are companies so serious online?

If you Google the best Super Bowl ads, the one thing that all the lists of ads have in common is that majority of so called ‘top ads’ are designed to make us laugh.  I’ve been involved in marketing for several decades and at no point have I come across research that says if you make people laugh they will then go out an buy your product.  Which then begs the question do the agencies create funny ads because these ads work, because they enjoy making funny ads, or because such ads win awards?  I suspect the answer is ‘all of the above’. 

The fact that the most expensive ads of the year are also the most amusing does make me wonder if marketers are missing an opportunity for the other 364 days of the year (actually 365 this year).  Why isn’t humor used routinely?  Why instead do most ads try and stimulate some other emotion such as fear (ING – what’s your number, All State’s Mayhem ads)?  Watch the Acura ad from this year’s Super Bowl that featured Jerry Seinfeld and the car barely gets a look in.  This may be because you can’t yet buy the car, or because they paid so much to get Seinfeld that they want their money’s worth.  Whatever the reason, the humor makes you remember the ad.  This is more likely the reason. Again though, why don’t more ads make you smile? 

I don’t watch much live TV.  Indeed the Super Bowl is one of the few times I watch a live broadcast and even then, I’m hardly gripped.  I am British after all.  I know the ‘live’ piece is a major reason why the ads are so highly priced.  You have a massive audience that is watching live, rather than recording it to watch it later.  This means that few people are doing what I do normally – fast-forwarding through the ads.  But would we fast-forward through ads if they were a part of the entertainment in the same way Super Bowl ads have become?  I suspect many would not.

Back in the late 1980s I recall going to movie theaters at least 10 minutes before the start time so I could watch the adverts from people like Levi’s.  This was a golden era for advertising.  Adverts were made by the likes of Ridley Scott and they were visually stunning and generally entertaining.  They were in short a part of the event, not an annoyance you sought a way around.

As marketers look to embrace digital channels I wonder if there is a lesson in here.  Should we be ensuring that we make the marketing channels as engaging as the content the customer is really looking for when they go online?  You bet.  This is of course why so many brands are trying to crack social marketing.  Again though, I do wonder if brands are missing a trick.  So many brands that have engaged through channels such as Facebook and Twitter do so in a relatively serious way.  I’d urge these brands to think again and look at those funny TV ads.  After all, we like to remember the good times.  So if brands want to be ‘Liked’ perhaps they need to focus more on making us smile 🙂


The Internet is THE marketing channel

Earlier this week I read about how the Internet advertising industry continues to grow at an incredible pace.  It’s still smaller than traditional channels such as TV and print but while these channels stagnate, the Internet, it seems is growing like the proverbial weed.  This will not surprise anyone in marketing.  We all know that fewer people are reading newspapers and sitting down to watch the news on TV.  Despite this, many in marketing still view the Internet as just one of several important channels.  If anything they view traditional channels as still having the edge.  Is this because they still spend large percentages of their budgets on big TV ads that we all avoid with our DVRs?  Or is it because we view traditional media as the root of content and the Internet as merely a convenient distribution channel?  Whatever the reason I’d suggest such thinking is outdated.  The Internet is, in my book, now officially king.  Youth audiences view the Internet as their primary source of content to the point where they almost ignore traditional forms of media.  Even older audiences, thanks to smartphones and tablets, are now turning to the Internet as their first point of content consumption.  Think about it.  When did you last use a physical newspaper as a real source of news content?  Today’s news is real time and completely digital.  We simply don’t wait for the printed word anymore.  TV still plays a role on major news items like the death of Osama Bin Laden but even there the Internet helps us get deeper perspective and raw content.  But the Internet offers more than just content delivery.  The Internet has become a fabulous research tool, enabling us to price and quality check products and services in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago.  The Internet now handles the sales and support of a large number of products and in some cases has revolutionized whole industries – music, books and video being obvious examples.

All of this shows that the Internet has become an incredibly important channel for businesses, governments and other organizations.  But my belief that the Internet is now THE marketing channel is perhaps best illustrated by imagining a day where the Internet was shut down.  Just think about how difficult it would be if you could not use the web, email and VOIP?  It would be catastrophic for some businesses to lose the Internet for just a day. Imagine if it went away altogether?  Replacing the role the Internet plays in commerce is hard to imagine.  We now use the Internet to drive so many aspects of our business.  Again, though it shocks me that so many people in marketing are not viewing the Internet as king.  From where I sit, the Internet is THE marketing channel and the sooner people start putting the Internet first in their marketing plans the better.  The disappearance of newspapers would be sad and irritating but we’d survive.  Losing cable or satellite TV would in some cases be desirable.  I for one could live without Judge Judy and Oprah for a very, very long time.  But if you unplug even a portion of the Internet, commerce would grind to a halt and democracy would take a huge blow.  So when you next sit down to write that marketing plan on your computer or tablet, make sure the first thing you work on is how to harness the full potential of the Internet.  It’s a fabulous place that, while not perfect, quite simply rules.

Has Apple changed the game with Siri?

Few will have missed the unveiling of the iPhone 4S. Central to the launch was the introduction of a voice activated assistant which allows users of the phone to talk to it and get information or perform commands. Questions such as “do I have any meetings on Friday afternoon?” change the way we think about a mobile phone.  I use my smartphone as a communication device and as a source for information but even with a highly visual interface I don’t really enjoy searching for content on it.  It’s just not a big enough form factor.  Voice commands change all that.  By simply talking to it, I can get the information without having to type it several times.  I think voice will change the way we use smartphones but also what kind of content we access.  The old adage that only get what you ask for applies.  When we type we express ourselves very differently from when we talk, so what we get back is different. It’s the difference between calling someone to ask a question and emailing them.  We get subtly different content.  I’ve no real idea where this takes us but I’m pretty sure that we’ll see an explosion in news types of content that voice driven requests will create.  As someone yesterday suggested, imagine using the voice command to enable your phone to talk to someone in another language.  An instant translator if you like.  Lastly, voice commands pushes natural language searching miles forward and as we know, when we improve search we improve what we find.  When we improve what we find, people get very rich…

Real Time/Social Media is making us spoiled – time for the ‘long idea’

In the old world, the one before the Internet and social media, we got our content when they gave it to us.  It was akin to three square meals a day if you were lucky.  Newspapers flopped onto driveways, radio stations paused at the hour to bring us news and the family (well the parents) sat down to watch the evening news.  These content outlets created funnels through which we got our news, views and perspective.  All that changed when the Internet arrived.  We could now get what we wanted when we wanted.  Well sort of.  Google and Yahoo! served up huge amounts of previously inaccessible content in ways that changed the world forever.  We quickly got used to being able to get news headlines and perspective at our time and place of choosing.  But with this change in behavior came a change in expectations.  Because we can now get news on a subject 24/7, we now want news on that subject 24/7.  If there is no news to report then we are disappointed.  We are, it seems, the spoilt kids when it comes to content. This creates a challenge for brands because you never want to disappoint your customers.

A quick study of top consumer brands show they re all struggling with this challenge.  Whether they are conscious of the challenge is debatable but many are trying to engage more frequently with their customers and partners online to avoid going dark for a few hours.  Think about that.  A decade ago a brand could go dark for days, even weeks and nobody had a problem.  Today we expect our brands to be talking to us, introducing us to their friends, entertaining us and of course keeping us informed every hour of the day.  Big brands, it seems, are being pushed to behave more and more like media outlets.  But constantly creating compelling content is only part of the solution.  Brands need to learn more about how and when their customers want to engage.  They need to plan the engagement cycle rather than the news cycle.  For many this requires a wholesale rethink of how they structure communications and marketing so that they focus less on how to get the news out and more on how to drive engagement on a consistent basis.  That word ‘consistent’ is critical.  Brands that engage around a new campaign and then go dark are the ones that create the largest expectation gap with their customers.  Avoiding going dark requires a rethink of the ‘big idea’ approach to marketing and instead a focus on what the guys at our Bourne agency have termed the ‘long idea’. After all, today’s world needs ideas that drive lasting engagement by creating a series of conversations, not just one.

I challenge you to look at the frequency with which your brand or your clients are creating a reason to engage and then compare that with the competition.  While pace of engagement isn’t everything it is rapidly becoming a key measure of a brand and its value.  So if you are trying to drive brand value, take a long hard look at how frequently you are engaging with customers, stakeholders and partners.  In today’s world, it’s not the only way to drive brand value but it sure is a crucial one.  Oh and while your are at it please make sure to feed my insatiable appetite for updates, insight etc.  In todays’s world can you engage too much?  Let’s leave that topic for another post.



PR PROs should drive insight not just news

PR agencies do more than drive news BUT they do tend to focus on the news cycle a great deal for obvious reasons.  Yet PR has to recognize that the way we consume news has changed drastically in the last five years.  Five years ago people had a primary news source, either via broadcast or a daily newspaper. Today they have a broad array of news sources that includes these same outlets, albeit online, but also includes bloggers, friends and people they follow on Twitter or are connected to on LinkedIn.  In such a fragmented market for information it is harder for companies to control their message.  This makes it far more important that companies determine the insight they want the news to create, which in will in turn drive the way they engage with the brand.  Yet all too often companies are so focussed on how to best to get the news out that they spend little, if any, time on what the news means and what they expect the people who should be connected to that news to do as a result.  In a world where we are drowning in information, the brand that goes the extra mile and helps us figure out how to make use of that information will win.  For PR agencies this means changing the way we think about the news cycle.  We need to work with our clients to make sure they understand the real and or desired implications of the news they want to promote.  There’s an old saying – there’s no such thing as bad news.  Perhaps PR consultants should worry less about the news and more about the insight.  Insight drives behaviors and actions and without these a client may well wonder why they engaged with you in the first place.


There are lots of ways to measure brand value.  For marketers it’s a very important metric, which is why they often end up spending large amounts of money trying to measure it.  It occurred to me yesterday that, while not perfect, eBay provides a very good way to measure the value of a brand.  This thought sprang from the fact that the Blackberry Playbook is already being sold at a discount on eBay.  For a product that has only just been launched this speaks volumes for the current state of the Blackberry brand.  Indeed eBay can give you a very accurate read on consumer sentiment towards the ‘value’ of a brand through this kind of price analysis.  eBay can go further though.  The site gives you a clear sense of the popularity of a product both by the volume of products being sold and by the number of bids on each product.  Lastly it gives you a measure for the reliability of a brand.  Search on digital cameras and you will find a host of ‘broken’ items.  If you were to tally the number of broken items as a percentage of those for sale by brand you would a) demonstrate what a sad geek you were and b) get a read on how reliable that product was.  I’m sure people with more brainpower and time than I have could come up with a host of other eBay metrics that would help derive the value of brands.  At the very least though, I would highly recommend that marketers scour eBay to get a sense of the competition and of the community around their or their clients’ products.

How many Fortune 100 CEOs use Facebook or Twitter?

Back in 2009 the numbers were very small.  Only two used Twitter or Facebook.  Two years later and things have improved dramatically, well at least in percentage terms.  Based on our latest research, just four Fortune 100 CEOs have Twitter feeds and while the total number of Facebook users approaches 700 million, just nine Fortune 100 CEOs make some use of Facebook accounts.  The four using Twitter are:

Warren Buffett – Berhsire Hathaway – @WEBuffett

Michael Dell – Dell Computer – @michaeldell

Brian Dunn – Best Buy – @BBYCEO

Craig Herkert – Supervalu – @herkc

When it companies to the companies themselves it is a very different story. All but 19 of the Fortune 100 companies have Twitter feeds and almost all the CMOs do.  What is interesting is that Apple has no Twitter feed, nor does its CEO while CMO was recently lauded for his use of Twitter.  Jobs also has no presence on Facebook.  The absence of top CEOs on Twitter may seem surprising to some.  These CEOs would likely all attract large followings and could use their accounts to add to the company’s personality through their tweets or Facebook updates.  The challenge seems to be one of time and priorities for many.  What several rightly want to avoid is have a ghosted twitter account.  If they are going to tweet they want to be the ones doing it.  Ghost tweets (tweets written by someone in their team on their behalf) lack authenticity and may in some cases give the impression they have too much time on their hands – not something investors would like to think.

So while I think the number of CEOs who tweet is bound to rise, especially as younger CEOs take over from today’s generation, I suspect it will be a long time before even half the top CEOs are tweeting.  Twitter, Groupon, Zynga and several other companies will likely have gone public by the time we get to anything approaching a high percentage.  Until then, you can continue to follow the fake Steve Jobs tweets like the one shown above.  Who knows, their tweets may prove more interesting, even if they’re not very accurate.

It would be easy to view the low CEO numbers as a sign that all is not well in social marketing.  Quite the contrary.  Indeed it’s great to see the number of businesses that have embraced Facebook and Twitter at other levels.  These social networks are now used to engage with a host of different stakeholders from customer, though investors to analysts.  Indeed the level to which brands are now engaging online communities is staggering and goes a long way to explain why traditional forms of media are fighting for survival.  So while Fortune 100 CEOs may be taking things very slowly, the businesses they oversee are most definitely not.