Awareness is Everything

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election 08, Propaganda, Marketing and Advertising

Given the imminent election it seems fitting to take a closer look at propaganda tactics (and parallels to marketing), especially those that have emerged in the 21st century. And don’t worry I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of platform delineations. I think it might be much more fun to look at how the candidates get us to think what we think and ultimately persuade us to vote one way or the other.

The most basic definition of propaganda is the presentation of information in order to influence an audience. The modern day interpretation of the term is definitely more menacing (depending on the culture) and is most commonly associated with political messages (full definition at Wikipedia). Not surprisingly advertising can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization, person, or brand.

A little history…
Propaganda is of course as old as people, but a quick google search on the history of propaganda will tell you that the origin of the word is attributed to Pope Gregory XV when in 1622 he established the Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith. As you may have guessed, the primary responsibility of this department was the dissemination of Catholicism.

There are many forms of propaganda, but generally speaking all tactics fall into 7 main categories identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in 1938. They are Assertion, Bandwagon, Card Stacking, Glittering Generalities, Lesser of Two Evils, Name Calling, Pinpointing the Enemy, Plain Folks, Simplification, Testimonials, and Transfer (you can probably get the gist of each type, but for full definitions go here).

Propaganda, Marketing and the 21st century…
People with ideas, whether they are religious or political, will always want to persuade others and they use various means to do so. Throughout history campaign posters, entire books (Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto”), movies, and radio and tv advertisements have all been tools in the propagandists’ arsenal. In the 21st century technology has changed the game a bit.

In the 2004 election, Howard Dean was one of the first presidential candidates to utilize the internet to communicate with supporters and raise funds. Via the web, he raised approximately $50 million in campaign contributions, started a blog, and created a group of political activists called “Deaniacs” that organized gatherings called “meet ups”. In 2007 all 19 primary candidates had websites and a blog at the bare minimum and today all three of the candidates (yes, even Bob Barr) have a dedicated website (,, and email campaign and are leveraging increasingly creative strategies typically only executed by marketers like social networks, consumer generated viral videos, widgets, blogs, SEM strategies, and iPhone applications.

Barack Obama has unquestionably seen the most rewards by balancing mass marketing techniques with the latest developments in social media and niche marketing. He employed a Facebook founder (Chris Hughes) and other hired guns from various ad agencies and it’s paying off big time. In September alone Obama raised $150 million and the cash continues to flow. It is estimated that the Obama campaign spends $2.8 million a day on advertising, which is double McCain’s daily budget (McCain’s total budget for September 1st to November 4th is $84 million). On October 29th, 2008 Obama will air a half-hour infomercial on 7 networks that is considered to be one of the largest ad buys in election history. Not since Ross Perot’s run for president in 1992 have we seen such media roadblocks executed by a candidate. So I guess it’s not that surprising that Barack Obama was recently named Marketer of the Year (above Nike, Apple and Coors) by AdAge.

Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on (or maybe you stand ON the fence),
I don’t think anyone can question the remarkable change in propaganda tactics this election. Here are a few content examples – candidate generated and supporter generated.

Obama-Biden Tax Calculator widget: Based on your annual income and filing status (can also populate # of dependents, age, retirement, etc.) you can see your estimated tax savings under each candidate’s plan. Unless you make more than $200K a year Obama is going to save you money.
Viral email campaign: Sponsored by and TrueMajority PAC. Enter your friends name and email address and they will receive an invite to view a CNN type website with news coverage about how they (name inserted) lost the campaign for Obama by not voting. And to make sure you don’t forget to pass it on the creators send you a follow up email encouraging you to continue your “social nudging” efforts to help them achieve their goal of 10 million forwards by election day. music video: Entertainer created a music video that features celebrities reading/singing an Obama speech. To date it has been viewed 970,223 times on
Paris for Prez video: Created by Adam McKay (FunnyOrDie pioneer), this video is a response to John McCain’s political ad that attacks Obama’s celebrity.
Countdown for Change iPhone application: A clock (days, hours, minutes, seconds) created by a supporter that counts down the days to Election Day. Even if applications like these don’t directly garner any votes, it is yet another example of how Obama is immersed in the modern consumer experience.

You may be wondering why there are no McCain examples listed. All I can tell you is I sincerely tried to find some examples, beyond the standard myspace page, but was not successful. Perhaps that explains the polls. Time will tell.

What are some of your favorites? Have you found any good examples of McCain leveraging social media, web 2.0, etc.?

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Summer Reading List

Following Paul’s reading lead in his post titled Being A “Small Giant” I decided to see if I could get some feedback on my own summer reading list. Like Paul I am constantly trolling online publications and eNewsletters – AdAge, CNET, Austin Business Journal, the IAB SmartBrief, etc., etc. for the latest happenings and breaking news in the industry. Along the way I have come across several book reviews that I thought were worth adding to my list.

As the dog days of summer approach (or are already here in Austin, Texas - I think they said it was going to get up to the 90’s today!) I plan on watching less TV and reading more books. So far on the list I have:

· Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) – By Cathie Black

Not sure why this made my list (I guess I should start trying to “get ahead” by taking better notes).

Here is a brief synopsis from the book:

Cathie Black is the wise, funny mentor that every woman dreams of having. She was a pioneer in advertising sales at a time when women didn’t sell; served as president and publisher of the fledgling USA Today; and, in her current position as the president of Hearst Magazines, persuaded Oprah to launch a magazine. In 2006 she was named one of Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women in American Business” for the seventh consecutive year. Now, in the exuberant, down-to-earth voice that is her trademark, Cathie explains how she achieved “the 360° life”—a blend of professional accomplishment and personal contentment—and how any woman can seize opportunity in the workplace.

A fairly limited web search unearthed mixed reviews on both her book and her character. I won’t make any predications about her character having never met her, but book reviews generally stated that the book only offered limited advice. Publishers Weekly states “While the author’s life is an interesting one, readers looking for tips will do better with a more pointed book” (see entire Publishers Weekly review and others here).

It is always interesting to learn about others’ path in life and business and gauge your own resolutions if put in similar situations. I think I will keep this book on the list for now.

· The Education of an Accidental CEO: Lessons Learned from the Trailer Park to the Corner Office – By David Norak

Book summary:

David Novak—one of today’s most engaging, unconventional, and successful business leaders—lived in thirty-two trailer parks in twenty-three states by the time he reached the seventh grade. He sold encyclopedias door to door, worked as a hotel night clerk, and took a job as a $7,200-a-year advertising copywriter with the hopes of maybe one day becoming a creative director. Instead, he became head of the world’s largest restaurant company at the ripe old age of forty-seven.

While David never went to business school, he did learn from the greatest of teachers—experience—and plenty of other very smart people as well: Magic Johnson on the secret to teamwork, Warren Buffett on what he looks for in the companies he buys, John Wooden on ego, and Jack Welch on one thing he’d do over. Now he wants to share with you what he discovered about getting ahead and getting noticed; motivating people and turning businesses around; building winning teams and running a global company of nearly one million people; and always staying true to yourself.

I know why this one caught my eye - I can never get enough of the underdog story and am constantly amazed by those that overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Probably has the potential to be a bit hokey, but most reviewers seem to agree that it provides guidance, inspiration and strength to those seeking success in business. Read more reviews here and here.

· What Sticks: Why Most Advertising Fails and How to Guarantee Yours Succeeds – By Rex Briggs and Greg Stuart

Book summary:

What Sticks is the one book that explains exactly how marketing and advertising works today! Based on new insights from analysis of over $1 billion worth of advertising.

Decades ago it was okay to believe, as retail magnate John Wanamaker did, that “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” However, today the stakes are much higher. Marketing thought leaders Rex Briggs and Greg Stuart estimate that $112 billion in advertising spending in the U.S. alone is wasted, cutting deeply into company profits.

What Sticks uncovers bold new insights from the largest-ever global marketing research project among 30 Fortune 200 companies, including: Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, McDonalds, Unilever, Ford and others. This is a comprehensive and solutions-oriented book that outlines how any marketer, at any level, can guarantee their advertising succeeds.

This book appears to veer away from the anecdotal nature of the above selections and focuses on more practical applications. AND it is research driven, which mirrors Sentient’s approach of listening to the customer before embarking on a solution path.

Reviews can be found here.

If you have read any of these books or have others to add to my summer reading list I would love to hear from you.

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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

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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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jumpers and HP

Has everyone seen this by now?

The concept is smart – instead of using advertising to place products in movies, why not turn things on their head and integrate movies into TV ads, right? The idea has potential, but the execution is in this case is incredibly uncomfortable. Hayden Christensen as “David Rice” is hopping in and out of a boiler plate HP commercial - somebody famous’ torso with cool computer graphics illustrating how their lives are so much cooler, yet similar to ours because they use their computers to create visual representations that cannot be done with the software that comes in the box. I’ve digressed.

The discomfort comes in the juxtaposition of the jumper and the tried and true and honestly pretty cool look and feel of the HP commercial. Since you can’t see the facial expressions of Serena Williams (HP Hero) it feels very forced. Ultimately the two never explicitly and directly acknowledge each other, which is very awkward. There are a few attempts, Serena mumbles “Hey, get out of here” and Hayden responds “Yeah, yeah”, but it simply doesn’t work. The whole time you’re on the couch wondering A) How long is this freaking commercial, because I think they’ve gotten out of the huddle right now and I’m missing a blow out and B) Is this for real? What am I supposed to buy again? The former is a typical male 18 to 95 yrs old football enthusiast reaction, but the latter is due in part, to the fact that there are eight brands mentioned in this 1 ½ minute spot.

Count them:

  1. 20th Century Fox (starts off trailer)
  2. Jumpers Movie (starts commercial as trailer)
  3. Mercedes Benz (jumps through window at beginning of commercial)
  4. Microsoft (remote control and logo on TV)
  5. HP (Serena commercial)
  6. Nike (Serena’s new clothing design)
  7. Andre 3000 (weird, random mug-shot)
  8. Aneras (Serena's clothing line at the end)

I’m not saying this isn’t a good idea. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this in the Super Bowl this year. With :30 second spot pricing persistently shooting through the roof and the medium becoming closer and closer to cave man writings on walls it seems to make sense to split the multiple millions over a brand or two, but eight….seriously?

Cynically speaking – I noticed the ad, which to be honest at this point is all TV is basing their numbers on. I guarantee you that anyone with a full beer and two minutes’ worth of potato chips; since running out of one of the two of those are the only legitimate reason(s) to leave the couch during a football game; noticed the ad. So now we have the all too frequent advertising morality question – have we, the keepers of TV sunk to a new low in that it’s better to sacrifice the consumers’ opinion/experience with the brand for the sake of distributing air time costs to partners and thus there’s more money in the budget for……….crap? I’ve become considerably disillusioned with the over-the-top, primitive beer commercials that ran in the last two Super Bowls, but in all honestly, I’d prefer to see the stray dog longing to be the Dalmatian in the horse-drawn (don’t get me started) fire wagon then some confusing tennis commercial that makes me want to punch a grown Anikan Skywalker in the stomach for interrupting. Budweiser may have momentarily abandoned the pursuit of pointless hilarity, but at least they didn’t give the Clydesdales fleas.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Notes from Advertising in Virtual Worlds session, Virtual Worlds Expo

Notes from my colleague Eric Brunker on the Advertising in virtual worlds session; panelists Joel Greenberg, Joe Hyrkin, Ben Richardson, Mike Dowdle Art Sindlinger

Present proposals in ways metrics can make sense - research? (Joe)

Capital music content - 2600 hours, 42,000 interactions with kiosks (Ben)

Reach and frequency do not always give impact

Captive audience, gauge attitude and opinions, how does a brand in the world impact the experience (Mike)

Question - Have the media answer so what? (Joel) or is is the marketers or the worlds to answer
⁃ Marketplace will solve (Art)
⁃ 700,000 in community, still in environment (Mike). Announced Turner Broadcasting, way to expand brand in a new TV experience
⁃ Helping consumers understand products (Mike)
⁃ just announced partnership with Cosmo, bring editors into world to connect with the editor

Question - typical metrics? (Joel)
- number of steps, time spent (Art)
- impressions, measuring number of times wearing branded shirts, how many times people have embedded Scion products (Joe)
- interaction, exposure, adoption, momentum (Art)
- Mike - so early in this industry, one metric is what brands can learn.

Question - Nielsen comes knocking and saying they need a new metric? (Joe)
- Mike - tough because each brand is going to have a different goal
- Ben - Toyota tracks chatter, number of logins in the blogosphere
- Joe - number of branded impressions with an avatar
- Mike - attitudes or opinions
- Joel - can do that from surveys
- Ben - demographics different, research which is best

Question from audience - contextual ad serving
- Joe - target by interest area, age, located
- Ben - via groups and affinity
- Mike - attaching brands to experience or interests

Question from audience - reaching through ad agencies or directly with brands
- Ben - both
- Joe - both
- Mike - a lot of traditional agencies talking to brands and a lot of virtual agencies talking. Brands not sure who to deal with and traditional struggling with this as well

Question from audience - do you sell CPM?
- Joe - sell CPM and projects
- Ben - most of the cost is in the production
- MIke - very similar

Question from Joel - should we be selling audience like TV?
- Art - TRP's still matter, but not all created equally, mixed modeling

Question from audience - how profitable is it for you to make branded experiences?
- MIke - focus 95% of the efforts on own world and partner with agencies and brands to create the experiences
- Joe - about user (deflecting question)

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