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9 posts from November 2008

11/30/2008 Motrin and Burton

I’ve been watching two customer generated protests unfold over the last two months, one online and one offline; one hugely successful, one not so successful; one driven by consumers and another driven by interest groups.

Motrin and Burton Snowboards both found themselves faced with an angry public. But the cases couldn’t be more different.

Motrin had posted an ad aimed at young moms. Their goal, apparently, was to connect with the challenges of young mom-hood and offer a solution. Motrin’s hip, typestyle driven online ad tried to bond with young moms with the inside scoop that carrying babies in slings or Baby Bjorns might make them feel like good moms, but that it gave them a pain in the back. Motrin to the rescue!

Unfortunately the audience, those young, online, urban moms, felt like Motrin didn’t get it at all. Believe it or not, the moms carried their babies like that because they liked to, it freed up their hands, made their kids feel better, and didn’t really hurt that much. But they didn’t like feeling talked down to. So they Twittered and e-mailed Motrin to death, and won. Motrin took down the ad and apologized.

Lesson 1: When your target customer is upset, you better listen!
Lesson 2: If your customer is online, you better move fast!

The other example is the brouhaha up in Vermont about the Burton Love Snowboards. Burton released a couple of boards with old Playboy centerfolds on them. One board had cartoon drawings on top of the picture.


That caused a group in Burlington to hold protests outside of Burton’s headquarters. It called Burton “pornographers.” And it forced members of the city council to pass a resolution calling on Burton to “talk with” the protesters (counselors voted down a more adamant resolution). The group wanted Burton to withdraw the boards from the market.

In Burton’s case, the people protesting were not the people buying the boards. The Love boards were for a younger, male demographic, and after the protest, they're apparently selling out in light speed. And Burton, always a big supporter of youth programs and women’s program, was put on the defensive, enough so that both Jake Burton Carpenter and his wife Donna responded in not-so-nice tones in this week’s local rag.

The Burton protesters were all offline – a search on Twitter reveals almost nothing. They weren’t customers and they weren’t able to generate any of the parodies you see on YouTube about the Motrin campaign.

Maybe they were too serious in their protests. Maybe they were too extreme in calling Burton “pornographers.” Or maybe, they just didn’t matter and couldn’t master the technology.

Lesson 3: You don’t need to listen to anyone and everyone.

11/26/2008 A Sweet Site

I’ve just been playing around on Premiyum’s new Web site. Premiyum is a new luxury chocolate product by Swedish candy maker Karamelkungen. I love sites like this: playful, well designed and not overloading me with unnecessary information.

Premiyum.se starts by rearranging its chocolate candies in various formations to highlight different times to give them: from when you want to cheer someone up to a great holiday gift. The Assortment section is great: I loved playing around with the different candies.  It’s only 8 AM but after clicking through I’m jonesing for some chocolate.

Best of all was the send to a friend.  I think that was the easiest and most elegant send to a friend form I’ve ever seen. The mad libs of forms, actually.

And what is it with the Swedes? You only have to look at all the great work on FWA to see that they’re overrepresented in this industry. Looking at this site makes me wonder what the heck I was thinking leaving Sweden back in the 90’s just before their online boom hit.

It’s all John McCain’s fault. If he had won, we’d be moving back.

11/25/2008 Online Banners – Dead Like in the Holy Grail

This week’s news has trumpeted the death (finally!) of the online banner. Adweek has blasted this out as their top story in their online newsletters "Is the End Near for Display Ads." It’s like listening to the apocalyptic ‘messengers’ on a corner of Broadway (or maybe Madison). Actually, it’s right out of one of my favorites scenes from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It’s most interesting, though, to read the first line of the article.

“Digital media buyers have been trying to kill the banner ad for years.”

Digital media buyers? Well, I can understand why they’re trying to kill banners. It’s because it’s a whole lot more work for them than buying other media. Compared with insertion orders on broadcast TV or newspapers, or media planning with a set number of known quantities, buying digital media is a pain in the butt. I’ve worked with great traditional media buyers who shudder and hide under their desks when faced with an online buy.

Just recently I’ve had conversations with a group at one of the largest businesses in the U.S. who’s using the largest media agency in the world to place their online banners. It’s amazing the amount of mistakes they’ve made in getting the right banners running on the right sites at the right time. Basic stuff, actually. But outside of business as usual apparently.

Media buyers aside, content is the biggest problem with online banners, not the medium itself. Too many banners are simply animated billboards. And no one connects with small space billboards. I’ve written about this in a previous blog entry a few weeks ago.

The opportunity right now is to re-energize this medium with the creativity and technology it deserves. The Adweek article laments the lack of results for online banners compared with other online (but not offline) media. Maybe, but I’ve developed banner campaigns that had click through rates approaching 1% and interaction rates near 20%. Those are great engagement metrics however you slice them.

In one campaign, for Unicel, we developed a rich media banner that people spent an average of 30 seconds playing in. That’s on average and that’s time spent engaging not just watching. More importantly, that one campaign helped drive sales more than any other online campaign, search included.

Look too at how Apple is using the banner space. They’re using the medium to tell stories in a great way, taking advantage of the inherent technology. Apple seems to be best at telling stories in their 30 second spots and is doing the same thing with the online banner.


I think one of the problems with banners is that they’re born out of advertising creatives who simply translate an offline (often print) campaign to the banner. It’s already stuck and boring before any interactive work begins. The only thing to do is to animate it.

Online banners will reach its potential when we (digital marketers, ad agencies, businesses) stop looking at them as simple extensions of existing work but when we instead take advantage of the technology to engage users in this space. We need to apply the same interactive creativity that separates great Web sites from static ones. We need to use this space to tell stories in a new way instead of replicating old ways.

I'm not the only one going down this path. As my econ professor always said "Look at the market." This week we saw that Theorem, a company specializing in reporting, online ad and search just purchased rich media creative agency Webpencil.

Banners are down right now, but not quite dead. Like some stocks I’m looking at, I think they are a "buy."

11/22/2008 Give people more ways of engaging

We’re all hearing how online, along with all other advertising, is going down, down, down with the economy. Without a doubt we’re heading for tough times. But it’s no time to head for the exits. General Motors chief Rick Wagoner told lawmakers last week that they’re shifting big dollars from traditional to online to gain efficiencies.

But most of our clients don’t have the budgets that even a wounded GM does. One of the things we can do for digital strategy and online marketing is to look at new ways we can help our client interact with prospects. Now is a good time to come up with alternative views of what we’re asking people to do online and help clients take advantage of the economic downturn.

“Take advantage?” you ask. Well, yes. With less disposable income, I’m predicting that people will spend more and more time online. Online is a pretty big bang for your buck. When you cut back, you’re probably not going to cut down on your Web use. Maybe you’ll work with your neighbors to share a high-speed connection and wireless network. Or maybe you’ll just hang out more at places with free WiFi. Changes, yes. Cutting back, no. We’ll see more online video, more news reading, and more interacting.

That will spell opportunity for online marketers who can take advantage of it. When people visit your clients’ sites, are you changing the way you talk with them?

Take a look at your clients’ online conversion points. Most companies focus on a few, like purchase, or signing up for e-newsletters. I work with one client who has a very low e-commerce conversion rate online. When we’ve dug into this, we’ve found that the when it comes to purchasing, people have too many individual questions. They need to talk to someone.

So we’re enhancing the focus to drive more people into Click-to-Call or even Live Chat. And yes, we are adding better answers to questions, but now we’ve expanded and shifted our conversion opportunities.

It’s a great time to show more online value in the face of bad news by increasing interactivity and giving choice and control to our customers.

Or, as Michael Jager told Microsoft, it’s time for “Less Hulk, more Bruce Lee.”

11/21/2008 Is Your Web Site Authentic?

I just heard an interview today on NPR’s Day to Day with Romi Mahajan, chief marketing officer for the digital ad agency Ascentium. He was asked a number of direct questions, none of which he really answered. But anyway. The most interesting exchange came when he was asked how to convince people to buy in a down economy, and he answered “Make your Web site authentic.”

Or, as they say in Swedish “Good day, axe handle” (Goddag yxskaft).

I think Romi’s making a good point; he just made it in an odd context. For any brand, authenticity is crucial. Yet, authenticity is really, really hard for most companies. The fact that it’s so hard offline means that most companies don’t get it right on their sites.

I’m seeing this in two current clients I work with.

One has an amazing product, according to all of its customers. A real winner. Yet it’s online presence looks like it’s selling schlock. And I mean, really cheap schlock. The shlockiness is spread throughout the Web; every mention of this company covers it in dreck. And yet, the company provides a top of the line product.

The other is a completely people-oriented company. It’s a company people rave about and  it grows primarily through customers word-of-mouth marketing. It provides a service focuses on personal fulfillment. Yet it’s Web site looks like a scary dentist’s office. When you go there, you’re expecting to hear the words “This won’t hurt a bit…”

I’ve always thought the Web should be the easiest place for authenticity. Think about it, you don’t have to teach someone how to talk, you don’t have to monitor dress codes, and you don’t have to do a lot of training. From a digital strategy standpoint, companies have a lot of control online, it’s surprising they don’t exercise it there, of all places.

Of course, some companies are great at being authentic online. Apple.com feels like an Apple product in presentation, it’s support forums feel like a Mac in ease of use. JonesSoda.com is about as authentic as it gets. Ikea.com just keeps getting better and better.

Maybe the problem isn’t making the Web site authentic. Maybe the problem is for companies to agree on what makes them authentic.

11/13/2008 Warning! Sites advocate and market at the same time.

I’ve run into two sites lately, both who are warning of dangers while trying to increase sales. They take very different tacks in doing so. The comparison gets a little challenging, since one comes from a social welfare state and the other comes from an independent profit driven company.

The first is CrimeMedicine.com and comes from the Swedish Läkemedelsverket. It’s the equivalent of our FDA; they approve all medical products for sale in Sweden. “Aha!” you might say. “You can’t compare that with product marketing.” Well, yes and no. You see most, if not all, Swedes buy their medicines at state owned pharmacies. So their FDA has a clearly vested interest in driving sales through the state stores.

CrimeMedicine.com takes you behind the scenes of online pharmaceuticals sales. They do this through one of the best interactive video interfaces I’ve ever seen. At each step of the video story you can click through for more detail, including Google maps of illegal pill making in suburban apartments. It doesn’t look like there’s much there, but I was surprised at the depth of info. And it helps that the video feels right out of a solid investigative journalism tradition.


Of course, if you don’t know Swedish, it’s hard to keep up with the story. But it’s a pretty jarring site to drive home the point that there’s something dangerous out there, even if we don’t pay it much attention. I mean I’ve gotten so much of this type of spam, I’ve never really thought about the seedy underbelly of this stuff. Yuck.

And the intro screen is great. Not what you expect at all.

Seeing the CrimeMedicine site made me think of Seventh Generation’s new campaign at ShowWhatsInside.com. Seventh Gen makes environmentally safe household cleaners and they’ve been the leaders in this space for a while. Now that green is hot, all of the big guns, like P& G, are getting into the game. The new campaign wants people to take a critical look at what’s inside of the competitors’ products, because there are quite a few “green” household products that contain toxic material.

It’s a great idea to promote consumer activism in a way that helps consumers, and sells more products for Seventh Gen. But their approach is almost the opposite of the first site. No jarring realism here, but some very soft ideas, like build a tree, an ingredient widget and a fun customizable tee shirt with your own ingredients. Yes there is video, but it’s the kinder, gentler type.


Both sites have some pretty disturbing stories to tell. CrimeMedicine tells it in a hard-hitting way using some great interactivity.  ShowWhatsInside does it through some user-generated content. Personally, I had a hard time quitting CrimeMedicine; it felt like there were a lot of good layers there. It certainly made me react more in my gut than the Show site.

Surprisingly enough, neither site did a great job in providing tools to spread the word.

11/10/2008 Utility + Joy

Someone asked me the other day what makes a great Web site or interactive experience. There were a lot of things I could’ve answered, like great design, control, interactivity, personalization, and all the buzzwords we’re used to hearing.

I thought about it for a while, and realized that what I described is what we all look for in any customer relationship: give me something that can help me (i.e. is useful) and do it in a way that makes me feel good. Utility + Joy = Satisfaction. There’s not that much difference from talking to someone on the phone. Except, perhaps that once we add in control, we get ultimate satisfaction.

Utility + Control + Joy = Love
Love is a strong word, but I think people love that combination. I think this is why something like Facebook is so popular. It’s certainly useful, you’re in total control, and you get a lot of emotional energy from using it. I know this is why Macs, iPhones, and iPods demand such a loyal following, because Steve Jobs has always built products this way. Bill Gates gives you utility and the ability to control some things. But no joy.

Is joy design? Partly, but it’s partly the intuitiveness with which some things anticipate my personal tastes and needs. It’s when it looks good and I just get it. When it’s fun to use.

One of the sites that got me thinking about this was National Grid’s Floe campaign. I’ve built a number and visited a ton of sites helping people reduce their energy use. One of the truisms about most of these tools is they have a lot of data, but they’re too hard to use, or overwhelming in the information they give. I think Floe does a great job of packaging the utility in a smart yet emotional way.

It’s also interesting looking at a number of travel sites or destinations, for example. They seem to split between Joy and Utility. But there are few who combine these together.

But that’s where I’m starting all of my work now. It’s a pretty simple mantra.

11/05/2008 Election 2008 and Online

Two really interesting and perhaps game changing trends emerged in this election: the way we used online to follow and participate in this election and the way Barack Obama used the online channel.

Ariana Huffington of the Huffington Post declared, a few days ago, the Internet the winner of the vote . She’s right. I’m finally weaning myself from my addiction to dailykos.com, realclearpolitics.com and others. What’s really interesting, though, are the novel ways everyone was using the Web, from Twitter alerts of voting irregularities to PBS sending out digital video cameras to people to document the vote on YouTube on the Video Your Vote Channel . I was able to even pretend I was John King of CNN last night, digging into county voting in Indiana in real time.


Amazing. It was truly amazing.

But, not the most amazing.

There are a lot of articles about Obama and his use of the online media. He took what Howard Dean started and elevated it 100-fold. Yes he was great at raising money and communicating and the ring tones, and, all of it.

But the most astounding thing they did, in my opinion, was to set up ways to connect with voters through the Web. I spent the last weekend calling voters in Ohio, New Hampshire and Colorado. I did this despite the fact that I never spoke to an Obama rep nor did I ever visit Obama headquarters. What they did was make my house an ersatz headquarters.

And it was all online. I signed up at my.barackobama.com, I chose my state, I got my calling list, I received a script, and I registered the results of the calls in real time. What an incredibly efficient operation. The Obama campaign was then able to track everything through Web analytics and have clear, actionable intelligence.

Whew! Think if businesses could do this. The Obama campaign showed what this channel could do. And everyone else experimented and won. We won.

And for those who think TV is going away, think again. It was rather the combination of the old media outlets and the new that made this election so great.

11/03/2008 Go Vote!

November 4th is it. It’s time to vote and make sure you participate. I’ve always been dismayed that the U.S., founded on the principle of democracy, has one of the lousiest participation rates in the world.  When we reach voting rates of 60% we’re astounded, yet Northern Europe reaches rates over 80% every three years.

It wasn’t always this way. In the late 1800’s we had rates that high. Of course, if you were lucky enough to live in a city, you got $20 and maybe a beer. So, maybe instead of TV advertising the political parties should go back to that model.

Starbucks has been running a campaign on TV and the Web that does reward you for your vote. Good for them! I hope they receive some benefit for this, as they deserve it. Today I did go in and buy a Starbucks instead of my usual Muddy Waters.


I still think that social media should play a larger role in getting people out to vote. Twitter and Facebook seem to me to be perfect instruments for a micro action like this, if you can call voting a micro action. Of course it would help if we had the day off.

So here’s my pitch: If you think voting takes too much time, tell your boss your comping the day or the afternoon to go vote. Face it; you’ve worked enough during the year to do your patriotic duty. If you get resistance, just keep talking about America and patriotism, and then go vote anyway. Start singing America the Beautiful or The Star Spangled Banner as you walk out. For the real rebels, start singing the Internationale.

You’ll feel great when you do!

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