Tag Archives: brands

Said the advertising to the academic, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”

I’m a little late to this one but I’d like to share some thoughts all the same.

Last March, Eric Clemons, who is a professor at the Wharton School, one of America’s top business schools, wrote a post on TechCrunch entitled “Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet.” It caused quite a stir.  Professor Clemons’s key thesis is that online advertising will ultimately fail.  There will be less of it in future because in today’s interconnected world, people don’t want, need or trust ads.

While the piece’s title refers to online advertising, Professor Clemons goes further:

“… simple commercial messages, pushed through whatever medium, in order to reach a potential customer who is in the middle of doing something else, will fail.  It’s not that we no longer need information to initiate or to complete a transaction; rather, we will no longer need advertising to obtain that information.  We will see the information we want, when we want it, from sources that we trust more than paid advertising.  We will find out what we need to know, when we want to make a commercial transaction of any kind.”

Earlier in the post he asserts that “the ultimate failure of broadcast media advertising is likewise becoming clear.”  So he is not talking about the eventual demise of online advertising only, but of advertising in general.

There is much in Professor Clemons’s post with which I agree, as well as some excellent perspectives that really got me to stretch my mind.   Especially thought provoking is his description of paid search as “misdirection,” because it sends consumers to pages that are not necessarily the most valuable to them, but rather to the sites of companies that cough up the most money.  (For this reason he believes Google’s business model is probably unsustainable.) Anyone who knows this blog also knows that I not only recognize, but am inspired by the changes web 2.0 and social media are bringing to fundamentals of marketing, communications and brand-consumer relationships.

Still, I am not convinced by the good professor’s thesis that advertising’s role in the marketing mix — online or otherwise — is necessarily doomed to oblivion.  The reason is that Mr. Clemons has a very info-centric view of advertising, as you can see by the previous quote and in the definition of advertising below that he offers in his post (passages in bold are mine):

“Advertising is using sponsored commercial messages to build a brand and paying to locate these messages where they will be observed by potential customers performing other activities; these messages describe a product or service, its price or fundamental attributes, where it can be found, its explicit advantages, or the implicit benefits from its use.”

The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated

The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated

If you believe that the only role of advertising is to provide information about a product or brand, or for that matter, that a person’s rational evaluation of a particular brand’s attributes and benefits is the only basis for the choice of that brand over another,  than his thesis makes perfect sense.  But of course we all know that human beings are not especially rationale creatures, especially in their brand choices, and that advertising in many categories plays a role beyond simply conveying product benefits.  It may be out of style to say it, but the truth is that even in an online world where we have easy access to all sorts of information about brands, people are still influenced by other factors in their brand choices than a simple assessment of the benefits received relative to the price paid.

We all know that brands have dimensions beyond the attributes and benefits they offer.  Brands can represent an idea, connect us with a feeling, signify a particular attitude toward life, or express a value with which we personally identify.  Advertising plays a role in shaping those dimensions in our minds, and when the product attributes and quality of two brands are more or less equal, it can be primarily those emotional qualities that determine whether someone chooses one brand over another.

I doubt this will ever change.  It’s in the nature of who we are as human beings.  I remember reading somewhere that it is in our psyche to ascribe human characteristics to inanimate objects.  That’s what’s at the heart of our propensity to ascribe emotional and image dimensions to brands.  It’s through those associations that brands are one of the ways we define who we are to ourselves and to others.  And that’ something else I see no sign of changing.

This doesn’t deny that a brand’s image today is driven much more  than in the past by the thoughts, opinions and impressions that people can now share with thousands of others on line.  But even though online conversations play a bigger role than ever in shaping the collective perception of rational and emotional brand dimensions, this doesn’t mean that brand communications, created by marketers, no longer have any influence at all.  Brand perception is shaped by a myriad of sources — online conversations, ratings and reviews, personal experience, comments from others when we use the brand, our perception of others who use it, and — yes — brand communications.  Just because that last factor plays a smaller role than it did when we lived in a marketing world dominated by one-way messaging from marketer to consumer, it doesn’t mean it plays no role at all today or will play no role in future.

But even if you come from the information angle, I think there is still a role for advertising.  Just because I’m not actively looking for information about a particular product or category, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want information to find its way to me.  I’m a Mac fan.  I’m happy to get “uninvited” messages about a new Mac product or an upgrade to my current one.  Or even to hear about a new flavor of my favorite tooth paste brand.  (I’m a flavored tooth paste junkie.)

One of Mr. Clemons’s arguments is that advertising will fail because people don’t feel it is a trustworthy source of information.  But in future, it’s quite possible that advertising will gain in credibility because marketers will be forced to provide a higher level of truthfulness and integrity in their messages and claims, precisely because in a web 2.o world, any inaccuracies or attempts at deception will be quickly exposed and shared mercilessly.

There seem to be a whole bunch of people making extremely black-and-white statements about the future of marketing and communications these days, about whether advertising as we know it (or knew it) will fail or succeed, evolve or be doomed to oblivion.  No one really  knows, but certainly a lot of people seem to act like they do.  Rather than channeling all this energy into debate on these questions, which is a bit of a tempest in teapot, we should focus more on exploring and sharing what’s working, what’s not working, and how old and new media potentially work together.  And then see what happens.

Does that mean that this is the last time I’ll ever raise my voice in the debate?

Probably not.



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A 30-second message from our sponsor — how cool is that?

In this amusing clip Malcom Gladwell fantasizes about a world in which digital media always existed and newspapers were only invented a few years ago.  He imagines that digital natives would find it totally cool — information on paper, no need to lug your laptop to the breakfast table every morning.  I’ve had a similar thought about 30″ TV spots. What if blogs, product rating sites, consumer generated content, online conversations, etc. were the only ways to learn about brands? Then someone came along and said — “Hey, I can tell you most of what you need to know in 30 seconds! How cool is that?”

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New moms are heavy into social media


Despite its reputation as the most natural thing in the world, caring for a new baby is described by many 1st-time moms as the greatest challenge they’ve ever encountered.  Deprived of sleep, coming to terms with fundamental changes of lifestyle and priorities, faced every day with a new questions, new uncertainties, and new decisions to be made, it’s no wonder that new moms seek out advice and support and have a deep need to share their feelings and experiences.  So it’s also not surprising that, according to Nielsen’s report The Global Online Media Landscape released April 22 (d0wnload here), new moms have a high propensity to visit social networking sites compared to the broader 18+ female population and average online consumer.  Experienced moms also participate more in social media than these other groups. (I think these are US data but I couldn’t find a definitive reference.)

Here are a few key findings (indexes vs. average online consumer):

  • Visited social networking site: Female 18+ (119), Experienced Mom (122), New Mom (286)
  • Publish/Own a Blog: Female 18+ (109), Experienced Mom (123), New Mom (270)
  • Visited both blogging site and social networking site: Female 18+ (98), Experienced Mom (110), New Mom (262)
  • Mothers aged 25-35 with at least one child at home are 85% more likely to spend time on Facebook compared to the average online consumer

So if you’re a brand seeking to build strong relationships with new moms, it looks like social media is something you should be thinking about.

In addition to these specific findings about moms, the Nielsen study has a wealth of useful data on the developing of digital and social media, how it’s being used and by whom.  Among other things, it confirms that usage of video and social media are the fastest growing digital categories.


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Facebook and Lovemarks

I just discovered a great site for slicing and dicing Facebook page rankings.  Check it out at Facebook Page Statistics.  It’s sub-site of AllFacebook The Unofficial Facebook Resource.


You can choose between rankings by number of fans, daily growth rate and weekly growth rate.  Those rankings are available for all pages or within 61 sub-categories — from  actors, bands and consumer products to TV shows, visual artists and writers.

Top three sites by fans overall?  Barack Obama, Coca-Cola and Nutella.

nutella2Now, I know Nutella is very popular in Germany and across Europe.  But I wouldn’t have expected it to be the third most popular Facebook page on the planet.  Would you?  (Do you even know what Nutella is?)  It has 3.2 million fans.

Some of the data seems a bit off.  Skittles appears twice, ranked number 4 and 6 under consumer products.  And the Bible also appears under consumer products.  Well, I guess it is one, strictly speaking.  But maybe the “Non-Profit” category might have been more appropriate.  Or perhaps “Other Public Figure.”  After all, it is the word of God.

People’s propensity to actually become a fan on a brand’s Facebook page seems like a nice, if somewhat imperfect, measure of their love of  the brand.  Imperfect, because variables of content and entertainment value will influence the number of fans on the page.  And not all brand lovers are on Facebook — yet.

But the fact that Coke is the number one ranked page for consumer goods would support a correlation to Facebook fans and love.  (Remember the revolt of Coca-Cola enthusiasts against New Coke back in the 80’s?  This is brand that is loved, despite its age and the proliferation of competitive offerings in the soft drink category.)  Nutella’s high ranking would confirm that too.  I know people who would take to the streets if “their” Nutella were ever taken off the market or even changed in the slightest way.  At Saatchi & Saatchi, my employer, we call brands like these Lovemarks.  We all have our personal Lovemarks.  Brands to which we are loyal beyond reason.


There are many ways to understand if a brand has moved beyond respect into the lofty realm of love.  The number of fans it has on Facebook is a new one worth keeping an eye on.

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Objectives for a hypothetical FMCG brand on Twitter

In a January blog post on Mashable, Jennifer van Grove wrote about 40 brands currently active on Twitter (“40 of the Best Twitter Brands and the People Behind Them”). It’s a worthwhile read. What’s interesting is that not a single FMCG brand makes the list.

This made me wonder. Is Twitter not a space that can be useful for marketers of fast-moving consumer packaged goods? I started to think what the possible objectives for an FMCG brand on Twitter might be. This is what I came up with. Some are somewhat specific to FMCG brands, but most aren’t.

Let me know what you think. And tell me others that occur to you.

I’ve framed the objectives with reference to women, since women generally are the decision makers about most packaged goods brands for the home.

  • Nurture strong relationships with women through dialogue, personal connection and conversation and by providing our brand with a human face and voice.
  • Drive commitment and loyalty among expanding numbers of women through the growing group of socially active individuals using Twitter and other social media platforms.
  • Multiply connections with our brand through relevant content that generates retweets and other viral actions.
  • Listen and understand how women truly feel about our brand and products through the immediate, real-time and truthful expressions and interactions that Twitter encourages.
  • Meet, connect with and acknowledge our brand’s most passionate users with an eye to further energizing their active endorsement of the brand.
  • Generate good-will, buzz and positive word of mouth through our brand’s efforts to engage, respond and share in real time on Twitter.
  • Identify, discuss and resolve issues or negative word-of-mouth immediately as these arise — for example, questions regarding sustainability, safety of ingredients or materials, product problems or dissatisfaction with performance, questions about usage instructions, etc.
  • Build awareness of promotions, price offers, events and other initiatives more effectively through pro-active opt-in of brand Followers on Twitter and through those Followers spreading the word to their personal online connections and communities on Twitter and elsewhere online.
  • Build awareness and drive traffic to other brand locations online, e.g. web site, Facebook page, etc.
  • Ultimately – generate increased sales and market share through women’s increased commitment, loyalty, appreciation and love for the brand and the people behind it.


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