Awareness is Everything: February 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Starbucks Media Jolt

Branding has become a hot topic again in the mainstream media (to some, myself included, it is always a hot topic. I guess it is the nature of the job). This week on the Today Show they featured the decline of the Starbucks brand. Starbucks’ woes in the last year, slowed growth and declining sales, is no secret and it seems every advertising joe has an opinion on what they should do. Most opinions center on returning the focus to the baristas and making the best espresso. The point being that the barista position (for more on baristas visit here) is not interchangeable with the cashier or the greeter or even the store manager, it is a honed skill that takes training and plays a pivotal role in elevating Starbucks above competitors. AND the extended business lines – music, movies, network tv, really doesn’t heighten the taste of my Grande Non-Fat, Double Vanilla Late at the end of the day either.

It would appear Starbucks is listening. In addition to the expected permanent closure of several stores and 600 job cuts, Starbucks temporarily closed all stores Tuesday evening (2/26) for several hours to retrain employees err baristas to “provide a renewed focus on espresso standards” (see full letter to partners, entitled “Starbucks Makes Organizational Changes to Enhance Customer Experience”). There are also plans to stop serving hot breakfast by the end of Fiscal ’08 and offer free or discounted WiFi beginning this spring.

So the obvious question is…was this really an effort to put the focus back on good coffee making OR was it a PR exploit to show off Starbucks renewed focus?

I present exhibit A: National Media Coverage of Starbucks Closing

Exhibit B:
  • Let me also point out that Starbucks isn’t open 24 hours and could have offered this “training session” after hours.
  • Not to mention, the length of the session was reported to be 3 hours. Can you really impart knowledge, grow your craft, and produce minions of genius baristas in a one-time 3 hour session?

Will it work? Well I suppose an afternoon training session is a start, but something tells me it is going to take more than a few hours of coffee making How To, to fix Starbucks (call me a pessimist). But maybe it is a start? Maybe, just maybe this media frenzy will make Starbucks accountable to their customers and force them to return to what made them good in the first place – good coffee and atmosphere? They have drawn a very public line in the sand, put a big ol’ stake in the ground, etc., etc. and the stage is set (can I use anymore clichés?) to deliver BIG. Does media frenzy = accountability = return to good coffee and atmosphere? Tell me what you think?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Live from Austin, TX :: CNN Democratic Debate

Consider these three things before we dive right in:
  1. I’m new to the political scene. Decided to vote in my college days (actually voted on the uber-conservative Texas A&M campus) since George W. lived in Midland and hello, I had to support my West Texas neighbor since I was raised in the “City of Contrasts” about 25 miles away. Needless to say, after a week at my previous job at GSD&M Idea City, President Clinton stopped by to promote his efforts in Africa and I was awed by his presence.

  2. I now regret that vote and have not watched a single recent debate thus far with one exception of flipping channels seeing the heavy makeup on both leading Democratic candidates at my boyfriend’s house (since I don’t like or have cable).

  3. According to a Pew Internet & American Life study, 72% of bloggers look online for news or information on politics and by contrast, only 58% of all internet users do so. So now that I am a blogger, this topic seems appropriate. By no means is it a type of endorsement.

Considering the above, my routine of listening to NPR daily and the state of our country, I decided it was time to start paying attention. Furthermore, who could resist when we have a Democrat Primary debate here in Austin tomorrow (2/21/08)? Not to mention re-routing what roads I take, I want to be in on the action especially when it’s happening in my city.

One thing I do find peculiar is that several states were rushing to bump their primary elections up and now that the election is so between the candidates, Texas and Ohio hold a larger emphasis.

THE DEBATE (in Austin):
Clinton and Obama will be in Texas tomorrow (2/21) to debate each other live on CNN at 8 p.m. ET and early voting already began on Tuesday. Today, the Texas Democratic Party notified 100 people that they had won the lottery to attend the debate. Around 43,000 people entered the contest. This may not seem too extraordinary but considering only 4,000 Austin Democrats voted in the 2004 primary – it’s big. Since the debate is on campus, 400 UT students will also learn today if their name was picked – oh, and 18,000 applied.

Since tickets seem scarcer than SXSW, tune in or ride your bike down to campus. If you already know who you prefer, take a look at both Obama’s and Clinton’s websites and find local events to participate in. Both of their websites are easy to navigate and let you enter in your zip to find local events in your area. Hint: you don’t have to enter your email address and zip when you visit either candidate’s websites – simply look below the fold.
Here are two events going on in Austin (or you can search your area):


“We need all Hillary supporters from all corners to come and help us with visibility for the CNN/Univision Debate on the University of Texas campus. Check in begins at 3pm at the Red River Cafe. Come to collect your sign, learn cheers, and get your debate after party ticket before heading over to the visibility pen.”

Meet at Scholz Garden, which is two blocks south of the campus. Texans for Obama will hold a pre-debate rally and also watch the debate on the projection screen in the outside patio garden at Scholz.

Political pranks are normally unknown to campaign leaders and have been occurring for longer than one would expect. On this weekend, they reported that when you type (versus .org) you are actually directed to the Republican Party of Texas. It’s true! In South Carolina, Christmas cards were sent out to evangelists allegedly from Mitt Romney highlighting his Mormon faith. A local Austin restaurant that is well-known for it's comical marquee, welcomes the Clinton's to Austin in style:

Want to show your interest in the campaign by sporting some election gear? Whether you are a Clinton or Obama supporter, visit for some digs:

Some might also find it entertaining to check out the “Yes I Can” YouTube video (along with numerous Hollywood celebrities) that mashes up an Obama speech with lyrics of the Black-Eyed Peas. At 12:19pm CDT, the video had 4,579,590 views. According to UT student, Sarah T., the video is spreading like wildfire across campus.

So, from my perspective, take the time to learn more about the issues and where the candidates stand. The promotion of candidates, delivery of campaigns and media is evolving now in front of us and shame on me to just beginning to really take notice. I encourage you to take this “Select a Candidate” online quiz to kick off the learning process:

Cheers to learning more, voting and getting involved!

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Dogs Rule!

Here’s a campaign that seems to have popped up with a new found sense of urgency - Pedigree’s Dogs Rule campaign. The site, most likely the brainchild of TBWA/Chiat/Day in Los Angeles is extremely well done from both execution and strategic standpoints.

The premise is simple, “We Love Dogs”. What does that mean exactly? Well, in the context of this campaign it means that Pedigree will match monetary donations, as well as Pedigree product donations given by customers to assist animal shelters located near the customer/donator. Ultimately, it means that Pedigree is working to help homeless dogs find homes and ensure they are a little more comfortable during their temporary period of orphanhood.

Normally, at this point in the post, I’d walk through each creative deliverable and critique it’s execution within the context of the campaign. I’d throw around vernacular like viral components, digital revolution and Age of Conversation. In this particular post, I’ll save us the effort in wading through simple concepts with overly sophisticated names. I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with the use of those terms, nor do I have issue with any of the sources linked above, but in this instance, they’re not of primary interest. The individual executions of this campaign are not flawless, but they are very well done. The point is this - where this campaign really sets itself apart; is when we step out of our “jaded creative guy” skin and put on the trusty “business” hat.

So what’s so different about this campaign? Take a look at the facts, and think about it……….
  • Dogs eat dog food.
  • Pedigree sells dog food.
  • Homeless dogs are put to sleep, thus removed from the market, if they are not adopted.
  • The Dogs Rule campaign is designed to help homeless dogs find adopted homes.
  • If the Dogs Rule campaign is successful in finding homes for homeless dogs, there will be more dogs in the market consuming dog food, thus the revenue potential of this vertical will increase.
As a result of the success of this campaign there could be a significant increase in revenue potential for Pedigree, given their current share of voice and share of market. This could potentially be the ultimate win/win scenario. Consumers, who love dogs, adopt a dog or an additional dog – Pedigree has helped them do so and the consumer couldn’t be happier. On the other side of the coin, Pedigree gets access to a larger pool of revenue that their customers, financially, helped them cultivate.

So here’s the point – In today’s marketing environment, full of the increasingly sophisticated, inevitably cynical consumer, your customers will cry bloody murder if they smell even a hint of corporate ambition. I’m not implying Pedigree went into this campaign with that particular objective, but what I’m saying is if you know the customer, and you create advertising/marketing strategy that is spot on to their needs……… doesn’t matter. As a brand, if you can show you know your customer and you care about what they care about AND provide the actions to support that claim then your leash (so to speak) gets significantly longer. In this case, people who love dogs tend to love ALL dogs, and genuinely appreciate the efforts of shelters, non-profit groups and dog food manufacturers alike who are working to improve the lives of dogs and enlighten owners-to-be. This campaign is a fantastic example of insights informing the creative process and creative being effectively implemented to support those findings.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Broader and bigger is not necessarily better

By the end of 2007, global active memberships in social network sites were expected to hit 230 million. Experts expect this growth to continue through 2008, peak in 2009, and then level out in 2012. Furthermore, it has been calculated that revenue generated from social networking sites will reach $965 million by 2007 and grow to an estimated $2.4 billion by 2012.

Currently the social networking market is dominated by MySpace (consisting of 57MM US members or 45% of US social networking members) and Facebook (consisting of 22MM or 17% of US social networking members) who comprise 62% of the US market.

Given that MySpace and Facebook have a virtual choke hold on the marketplace, and experts. Given the strength of MySpace and Facebook, experts believe that social networking will continue to grow and maintain its momentum; the opportunity in social networking will be in vertically aligned niche sites that have specific audiences and a specific mission. These vertically aligned sites will need to integrate into the more broad-based sites like Facebook and MySpace, thus using these as a platform and not an end result.

I think the reason for this is that broad social networks like MySpace and Facebook are so big and so general; it is hard for the user (let alone the advertiser) to find the type of content that is really compelling to them. Sure, there are search capabilities on the networks and people create groups, but the overall sites have so much content and such a broad basis simply due to the number of people on the social network that specific vertical niches often get lost, which inherently de-values the impact of the people within those niches.

A vertical niche can be very powerful as well for advertisers as it provides them with a much higher quality lead as they have already shown an interest in the advertiser’s market. In these cases, I believe advertisers should not be so hung up on the pure numbers, but rather the type of content and the crowd effect of having ALL the members interested in the same topic.

For instance, my family is a horse family. My wife rides, my daughter rides, my sister-in-law trains horses, my mother-in-law owns a tack shop, and my father-in-law is on the board of the Texas Hunter-Jumper Association. All of this and I am severely allergic to horses. So I could be a part of my family’s passion, I decided to do something I know about, I started a social horse network (not going to plug it though as this is not the point).

The site was meant more as a hobby and to potentially connect a few horse enthusiasts (try not to say horse lovers as that brings some very unusual sites to the top of the list on Google). However, with nearly no budget, the site has grown to be 1100+ members in just a few months. Most of these come from Facebook as they were made aware of the site via some very cheap ($5/day) advertising and a Facebook application. Now my users spend more time on my horse network than they do on Facebook (according to the members). The reason for this is that the site is totally dedicated to their passion, which should be the highly motivating to advertisers.

So, from my perspective, going out and trying to compete with a Facebook or MySpace is a stuff chore these days, however, if the social network is vertically aligned and narrowly focused, there could be a lot of room for growth in the network.


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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Social Bookmarking: stop getting lost in your bookmarks.

STOP using your browser to bookmark sites! If you're like me and have a hard time remembering websites you visit infrequently, bookmarking the old way was probably only helpful when the list is short. Once my bookmark list got too long, finding sites was more of hassle than it is worth, and who has time to organize on the fly?

Social bookmarking puts your dog eared websites on a social network. You simply sign up and start tagging. There’s a short learning curve, but once you get accustomed to tagging sites, you will find social bookmarking to be very useful and almost a second nature to use.

Here is a video I found on YouTube that breaks it down quite nicely.

Okay, now you should understand why the old way is out dated. is the service I use. The layout is clean and the design intuitive. "Blinking" a site is simple once you have the plug in installed you simply use the new Blinklist menu in your browser tool bar and go to "Blink it!" a pop up box comes up where you add your tags and description for the site that you are on.

Some others I have tried are StumbleUpon,, ma.gnolia and Furl all of which are clean and intuitive you will just need to find the one you like best.

For a more complete list go to eConsultant or my growing list of related sites

Also, try searching a social bookmarking site instead of the conventional search engines and you will get better search results. The strength in numbers properties that have made Facebook and Myspace so powerful will help enhance your search. The reason being that someone else has probably already added a site or multiple sites that fit your search and decided that the site is worthwhile. Your search results are now not only qualified to have the content you are looking for, but have been deemed noteworthy by your peers. They took care of most of the weeding through for you.

I’d love to hear about your thoughts or experiences with Social Bookmarking please add your comments here.


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