February 2009

It goes everywhere he goes!

It goes everywhere he goes!

As if becoming the first black President of the United States wasn’t enough, President Barack Obama continues to make history — leveraging emerging media channels to reach Americans with a frequency and transparency never before witnessed.

Traditionally carried on the radio, Obama now speaks to the nation very week through a video released on YouTube.com. The White House Web site — once the domain of historical information on the grand old structure and dry press releases — now features a section known as the Briefing Room



There visitors will find:

The Blog
Latest news and updates from the White House, including pictures and video, from a variety of personnel within the administration
Your Weekly Address
Text and video of President Obama’s Saturday morning addresses to the nation
Photos of recent administration events and announcements, as well as historical images
Text and video of major speeches by President Obama, the First Lady and members of the administration
Official Statements
Official statements and remarks from members of the administration
Press Briefings
Transcripts of press briefings and statements from the White House Press Secretary
Press Releases
Announcements from the White House Press Office
Presidential Actions
Executive Orders, memoranda and proclamations
The site also features a link to the Office of Public Liaison to further extend the reach of the administration in generating ground level support for initiatives, set up networks for the next election and cultivate relationships. Right now, the link includes an in-house e-mail system; the page promises to expand contact methods in the weeks to follow.
For the kids, Obama’s Web site includes colorful, animated facts and bios on the presidents as well as a slideshow of the first pets through history.

The Obama Administration also recognized the need for and advantages that will be gained with a supplemental site dedicated to the president’s economic recovery plan. The site details how the earmarked funds are being spent, a video message from the president as well as an important interactive feature — ordinary U.S. citizens are asked share stories about how the recovery plan has benefited them. No doubt these stories will be polished and pushed into media outlets at every opportunity.

Final Bark
Politicians of every stripe and level have begun to emulate Obama’s successful flexing of new media muscle in his run for the Oval Office, but will they be as quick to follow his lead in continuing the use of such cutting edge channels after actually getting into office?


Following BMW’s lead, Levi’s has produced a series of short films to connect with the artsy 20-somethings of the world. As if jeans aren’t ubiquitous enough with the demographic! In any event, the films are scripted reality – they are shot with handheld cameras, feature obscure struggling actors and the dialogue is freewheeling. All of which plays off the demographic’s love affair with real life captured on film.


In one film, “Helium,” a group of 20-somethings inflate a guy’s jeans with helium and watch him float around an abandoned lot. It’s an entertaining little episode but I find myself struggling with ROI. Can the producer connect exposure to some – heck, ANY – positive result for the company involved? These films are creative, they’re entertaining and some of them, like “Helium,” would and do make great TV spots. But what about the shorts that don’t make it to the small screen? Do they generate anything for the sponsoring company?


According to You Tube, “Helium” was posted in June 2008 and some 420,000 viewers have watched it since. That’s great … Did it cement a relationship with the brand in any of their minds? Did it induce any of them to buy a pair of Levi’s? Did any of them click to the Levi Web site after watching it?


Watch this video clip of David Skul, CEO of an interactive media marketing firm. In it, Skul discusses the potential for measurement attributed to new media.




Did you notice Skul mentioned umteen ways to COUNT or TRACK viewing and visitors but none of the discussed metrics followed the marketing tactic’s ability to impose financial consequences for the company? In today’s weakened economy and sharply competitive marketplace, it isn’t enough to simply count how many people watch the films or share the films with friends. It isn’t enough to know how they landed on the film either.


Final Bark

There is a push in marketing to move the discipline from the expense side of the ledger to investment. To avoid reductions in budgets and enhance the perception of the practice’s vitality to the success of a business, marketing professionals are trying to position their existence and their labors as essentials not luxuries. To do so, those of us in the field must clearly and succinctly demonstrate how each and every action forwards the company’s financial health.

When BMW raced to the forefront of the global consciousness with its series of films — aptly titled “The Hire” and directed by some of the most innovative filmmakers of the last half century — the buzz could be heard reverberating around the Web as well as the walls of marketing departments all over the globe.

The German carmaker is not the first to take aim at consumers with a story-driven spot; way back in 1939, Kellogg’s produced a short (one minute, 21 second) flick on Snap, Crackle and Pop tackling three thugs for control of the breakfast world. But BMW’s series does appear to be the first to take award-winning, critically acclaimed feature film directors and use them to produce a platform to discuss products and brands.

The Web site traffic, word-of-mouth buzz and media interest sparked by BMW’s efforts has — as one would expect — inspired a host of imitations. Just about everyone and their brothers are rushing to produce and post short films. To date, none of the films released in the follow-up wave have produced a tenth of the interest generated by the German carmaker’s pack-leading gamble. The innovation curve has past and the cluttered landscape – a YouTube search of just about any company name will turn up some kind of film — has already jaded many segments, including that elusive teen and 20-something crowd.

Given the relative blitz of short films as well as the stagnant economy’s impact on marketing spend, I’d be willing to bet short films will slow to a drip over the next five years. Still the tool does merit some discussion:

Marketing uses
— Slipping past their defenses
Audiences have been clamoring over the amount of ad rhetoric for decades. A scholar published an article all the way back in the February 1951 edition of Harper’s Weekly detailing the general dissatisfaction with the pervasive nature of advertising. I would imagine the good doctor’s head is spinning with the amount of channels and messages utilized today. Short films, which follow the arch of the traditional story, are frequently perceived as art first and ads second — thus sidestepping any knee-jerk rejection by
— Spreading like wildfire
Consumers are not apt to pass along traditional marketing messages, unless there is a humorous error or controversial material. People do forward engaging short films, thereby increasing brand awareness and expanding relationship potential.
— Standing alone
Shorts can be used to support existing campaigns, but they may prove more valuable as a means of reaching audiences not targeted by other campaigns.


There’s a great deal of confusion in the marketing world as to what defines a short film. There are plenty of TV spots that follow the story arch and exhibit dramatic elements; there are also lots of short films that are so centered on the product or brand that they feel like really long ad.

Here are my suggested guidelines:

  • Extended ads — Product or brand centric, audience called to some kind of action, less than 3 minutes in length, inclusion of logo, slogan or tagline.
  •  Short film — Story centric, longer than 3 minutes, brand or product
    identifiers invisible or nearly invisible, no call to action.


Traditional short films are expensive and time-consuming to produce: Lighting, sound, editing, director, actors, location, transportation, etc. add up to a serious investment. One alternative may be to put the campaign in the hands of artists struggling to make names for themselves. Known as crowdsourcing, many firms have solicited completed projects from amateurs or professionals on the rise. The process reduces cost but releases control of the content.


Final Bark

Although the outbreak of short films is likely to subside with the economic standstill, more thorough definition of the tool will make for more appropriate use in the future.


Nostalgia has always reserved a plate at the marketing table. Connecting with a shared past is one of the most fundamental means of engendering relevance in a marketing message. This is a fact the core of Generation X is beginning to understand. As the bulk of the segment moves into mid-professional levels, marketers are retooling their visual and auditory appeals with the hope of leveraging quintessential experiences of the late 1980s and early 1990s into purchases and loyalty.


Music from the time period is now selling everything from gum to cars and iconic imprints – like the Smurfs and the Rubix cube – are being paired with unrelated materials in an effort to attract the attention of this hard-to-reach but lucrative market. And all of this is developing as new means of connecting with audiences evolve almost daily.


No entity has done a better job at marrying Gen X nostalgia and new media than VH1 Classic. From traditional broadcast content to text tactics to iPhone apps, VH1 Classic is ahead of the curve.


It all starts with broadcast content. Fishing with this wide net, VH1 cultivates budding consumer relationships with vast blocks of relevant material. Saturday and Sunday mornings, VH1 Classic devotes more than three hours each day to classic 1980s hits. During the videos, viewers are encouraged to add he songs as ringtones on their phones via a text message. But that’s only the beginning of the mobile fun. Viewers are also urged to hop online visit the Vh1 Classic Web site, specifically a section designed expressly for the mobile-inclined consumer (http://www.vh1.com/mobile/). Here viewers can sign up for games, upload videos, register for content alerts and daily “blasts”, learn how to participate in discussions and even access specially designed “made for mobile” content. It’s a virtual cornucopia of mobile action!


One of the biggest complaints, even among educated cell phone owners, is a lack of understanding when it comes to available functions. Most with a BlackBerry of iPhone sheepishly admit they likely only use a fifth of the machine’s capabilities. Why? It isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they don’t know how. VH1 Classic has that base covered too! It’s simple: Click on your wireless carrier, enter your cell number, wait for a text offering more instructions and then start rockin’!


The final bark

I really have no interest in accessing a wide variety of content – or marketing messages for that matter – through my sadly outdated cell phone. The Internet and TV are enough for me. But, if firms are inclined to reach out with this new channel, they’d do well to take a page from Classic. 

Let’s set aside the philosophical debate over mobile marketing for a moment. I detest the notion of companies co-opting a private communication channel for commercial use, but it’s swiftly becoming a fact of life. Emerging media appear to begin with the consumer in mind but end with a deluge of marketing messages. Rather than waste my time fighting the trend – that would be a bit like stopping to bail water on the Titanic – I’d like to make the case for expanding the target demographics of these unholy, but effective strategies.


Most mobile marketing efforts appear aimed at the coveted 35 and under crowd. That stands to reason as this age bracket is the most familiar with the technology. However this approach is a bit short-sighted, ignoring three important factors: Changing accessibility trends in other demos, acceptance of marketing messages and discretionary income.


It’s time to dial up some deals with the gray-hair set!



Baby Boomers – the largest single generation in the American market – are dialing on the go in droves. Seniors report using their cell phones an average 30 percent more in the second half of 2008 than the first part of the year [see included graph]. This explosive growth rate is likely to continue as usage benefits spread via word-of-mouth and improved technology eases adoption concerns. The adoption rate in Baby Boomers may not out-pace the younger segments, but it certainly sets the first stone in a case for leveraging mobile tactics in reaching the group.



The segment is far more accommodating in its time with marketing messages than younger demos. Several years ago, we conducted a split telemarketing campaign seeking donations from two distinct market segments – young professional (26-35) and near retirees (52-65). Hang ups and angry statements were far more common among the younger set than the older group. The near retirees were more likely to at least allow the telemarketer to finish their appeal before declining. It’s a generational thing – Baby Boomers came of age in a time when the telephone was an instrument of personal communication, not a sales tool. As such, they view the voice on the other end as a person not a faceless corporation or organization. That level of personalization, at least in the minds of Baby Boomers, demands a modicum of respect. That’s a fact mobile marketing campaigns can take to the bank.


Big spenders

Baby Boomers, by and large, have far more discretionary income than younger professionals on the upswing of their career paths. Even relatively affluent young professionals face steeper financial commitments than most Baby Boomers. Many Baby Boomers have paid for their houses, own their cars outright and have empty nests. After working so hard for so long, the segment is now in a position and mindset to spend a little.


The Final Bark

Proponents of mobile marketing appear avowed to fielding the strategy only in campaigns aimed at younger market segments. They do so to their own peril. As evidence shows, the rather invasive technique may also work to differentiate a firm looking to reach other lucrative segments, like Baby Boomers.


They're job is to protect the world, ours is to keep them safe.

They're job is to explore the world, ours is to keep them safe.



There’s an infomercial currently airing in which a woman suggests her computer skills lag significantly behind those of her 3-year-old daughter. The woman could be a complete idiot (entirely possible), her daughter might be a genius (less likely) or she was asked to exaggerate for effect (bingo!).

Still there is a nugget of truth in that advertising rhetoric. The next generation is growing up with far more access to emerging technology than any previous age group. Kids as young as 2 and 3 are gifted toy cell phones and laptops, preparing them for an easy transition into the real items.

This increased familiarity imposes new responsibilities on those charged with designing marketing messages for the younger set as well as those who cultivate brand relationships. It negates any defense that the target audience lacks enough sophistication to get itself into trouble and it demands the marketers provide a solid foundation for future use of new media.

First, marketing pros must provide a safe environment for children to communicate with one another. A plethora of new sites feature interactive elements, including internal chat platforms and virtual realms, that cry out for improved checks and balances relating to secure access. Most of the sites, like groovygirls.com or webkins.com, simply require a purchase to receive a code. From there, anyone of any age with any agenda can register,
set up their online persona and begin conversing. At the very least, companies fielding such services should monitor the discussions for any sign of inappropriate language. In addition, registration should require some imprint from a parent or guardian. The form should clearly state in legible print that parents are encouraged to monitor their child’s
interaction with the site as well as note the inability of any Web site to provide 100 percent security.

Second, marketers utilizing new media in reaching children should provide ample framework for the child as they move into pre-teen and teen years. We need to teach 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds ways of protecting themselves while still enjoying the communicative advantages of today’s emerging media. In addition to tutorials provided within the actual chat room platforms, the Direct Marketing Association should consider fielding a progressive public service campaign underscoring safe surfing and chatting techniques.

The final bark
Alexander Pope once said a little knowledge is a dangerous thing … So true when dealing with children. They know enough to utilize new media but not enough to keep themselves safe. That responsibility falls to those of us who have outgrown Saturday morning cartoons.

The 2009 Super Bowl — pitting one the league’s small market teams against one of its weakest long-term performers — attracted more viewers than another Super Bowl in history. The game narrowly topped last year’s matchup on Fox (98.7 million to 97.5 million) and was a distant 4.6 million viewers ahead of Super Bowl XXX (94.1 million). In fact, it was the second most watched broadcast in TV history; only the M*A*S*H finale scored a better audience.


Some of the excitement is due in part to the loyalty of the Black and Gold nation. I read that some diehard fan found at least 2 Steelers bars in every state capital in the country. But that’s a different blog for a different day.
For our purposes, the sideshow — the all important ads — must take center stage. Even in a battered economy, companies lined up in droves to get their messages in front hundreds of millions of eyeballs. In fact, I think I read all available ad slots were filled ahead of the broadcast. Not bad considering the general cuts in ad spend over the last two quarters and the outrageous prices commanded by the network.
So what about the content? Who produced this year’s most memorable spot?

There are entire Web sites dedicated to answering these very questions. But, I don’t think any of them will agree with my assessment. The winner is … Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

It wasn’t the funniest bit; it didn’t have the most advanced special effects; and there were no scantily clad young ladies. It was, however, the perfect balance of visual stimulation, emotional appear and new media integration. Let’s break it down…

Basic storyline

For those three people who missed the game, the commercial featured scenes of neglected athletic fields that slowly morphed into state-of-the-art facilities. A voiceover notes Kellogg’s will help fix up fields in America to support the next generation. Viewers can help decide which fields get the makeovers by visiting the company’s Web site.

Visual stimulation
Using computer-assisted animation, the spot artfully morphed weeds, rusty old fences and dirt patches into championship caliber fields.
Emotional appeal

The voiceover noted the number of children involved in athletics as well as the positive impact such involvement can have on overall development. Drawing on the recent enthusiasm for service, the narrator successfully mined our shared love of sport and children for impact.

New Media  

While most Super Bowl ads seemed aimed at bolstering brand image, Frosted Flakes actually pushed the audience to take action and the company did so through new media. Viewers were asked to participate in the campaign by visiting a Web site. Visitors can nominate a field, which requires a completed registration — can you say database gold mine? The campaign also calls for repeat exposure to the site as visitors cast ballots in different rounds of voting and tune in to watch the fields restored to their glory days.
The final bark
Kellogg’s got the most bang out of its Super Bowl buck — Go Steelers!

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