I’ll miss the way you smile as though it’s just for me

I love Mad Men. And I love companies that use blogging as a tool to promote their content, interact with their fans and get good SEO cred. (Why? Because I work in marketing) But AMCTV’s Mad Men blog pitched me a wingding this week:

Can’t get Peggy’s rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie” out of your head? Why should you? But while you’re humming that tune, check out the following online extras:

Those of you who saw “Love Among the Ruins” in Season 3, Episode 2 should already have your jaws on the desk. If not, I may have to spoil a bit.

Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) is the only female copywriter in the 1960s Madison Avenue advertising firm Sterling Cooper. In this episode, she’s assigned to draft a commercial for Pepsi’s new diet drink, Patio, inspired by Ann-Margret singing the title of “Bye, Bye Birdie”:

In the brainstorm Peggy argues that, while Ann-Margret’s veiled sensuality certainly appeals to the males in the audience (and let’s be frank, there is something kind of sexy about the open pleading, the bit lips, the shaken head, etc, I don’t need to spell it out further, do I?), Patio is targeted at women. Women don’t need to be seduced by Ann-Margret. The other men in the room dismiss her criticism and her boss, Don Draper, shuts her down with restrained impatience.

Rebuffed, Peggy wonders if she’s missing out on something. Peggy’s character arc through the first two seasons veers between Career Professional and Sexual Creature, two identities she can’t wear simultaneously in the 1960s. So, in “Love Among the Ruins,” Peggy reconsiders her path for a moment. Is that really all men want, she wonders? Not someone intelligent with whom to share a life, but someone kittenish and accessible?

And there’s a heartbreaking scene, halfway through the episode, where Peggy stands in front of her bedroom mirror in her nightgown and does her best Ann-Margret impression. And it’s just not good.

peggy-olson-bye-bye-birdie

It’s an example of how great Mad Men is at capturing vulnerability: the unguarded moments when our professional mask slips. It’s raw and poignant and embarrassing and rewarding.

Can’t get Peggy’s rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie” out of your head? Why should you?

Can’t get Mr. Blonde’s rendition of “Stuck In the Middle with You” out of your head? Can’t get Buffalo Bill’s rendition of “Goodbye Horses” out of your head? Can’t get the Radiator Lady from Eraserhead‘s rendition of “In Heaven” out of your head? Why should you? They’re only meant to haunt you about the civilized veneers we plaster over our primal insecurities. Snap your fingers, tap your toes.

(N.B. Things don’t end bad for Peggy. She gets dolled up, goes to a bar, picks up a college student, goes back to his place for a one-night stand, then sneaks out at about five in the morning. Critical reaction to this was mixed, but I saw it as a tremendous step forward for Peggy. She tried her hand at the Don Draper seduce-and-destroy lifestyle, enjoyed it, decided it didn’t work for her, and went back to work none the worse for wear. She didn’t get a hysterical pregnancy or sit weeping on the floor of her shower. Sex is great; glad I had some; la dee da)

Anyhow, moral of the story: make sure the intern writing your blog has actually seen the episodes they blog about.

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different strokes for different folks

If you’re curious about what I do for a living, or about internet marketing, you might find the following post interesting.

Companies love internet marketing – search engine ads, banner ads, e-mail newsletters, etc – because they can track it with greater clarity than any other form of advertising. Advertisers like Nielsen and ClearChannel may provide estimates of how many users see a TV ad or a billboard. And those estimates might even be accurate to a statistically significant degree. But they can’t say with real certainty how many people follow up with the sponsor because of that ad. They can guess, and they’ve grown really good at guessing. They can post a special phone number or URL that only people who’ve seen that ad would use. But it’s not precise.

Internet marketing stomps on that limitation. We can tell where you were when you saw an ad. We can tell when you clicked on it. If the ad popped up in a search engine (a Google ad, a Yahoo! ad, a Bing ad), we can tell what you were searching for when the ad surfaced. If you click on the ad, visit the sponsoring website and don’t buy, we can tell which other sites you visit afterward. All of this, and probably more, we know. Not about your demographic, or about your personality type – about you, personally, the man or woman doing the browsing.

(Clearing your cookies prevents this, though technology to get around that will soon be widely available)

Very few agencies manage all of a company’s advertising, however. A company might do SEO in-house, contract out for search ads, buy banner ads direct from the publisher, use e-mail marketing templates and trackers from a small agency, and get one overworked intern to handle social media. So you have data streams pouring in from half a dozen different sources. But these data don’t all represent separate people. A lot of these data points might cover the same person.

For instance: you’re thinking about buying a new car. You do a Google search for “used sedans in Boston.” You see an ad in the Sponsored Links column (on the right) for certified pre-owned Hondas at a dealer in Quincy, MA. The “Honda” grabs your attention, subconsciously, because you’ve been seeing a lot of banner ads for a Honda year-end sales event. So you click on the dealership ad and poke around at some of the models they list. You visit several other sites that same day, either by searching or by clicking through sponsored links on trusted sites (like the Boston.com/Cars page).

A few days later, you see a banner ad for the Honda dealership in Quincy you clicked on first. This isn’t a coincidence. You’ve been retargeted – cookied and triggered to serve banners from a site you visited but did not buy or sign up from. The ad mentions one of the models you were looking at (the Accord, let’s say) and says there are some new cars in stock. You click through and look around. Sure enough, there’s an Accord that meets your needs. You fill out the online form to get more information.

A detailed quote is sent to you from the dealership. This puts you on an e-mail list. A week later, the list sends you its weekly e-mail, listing a handful of used cars that have just arrived in the showroom. You click through on one, decide you like it, and call the showroom to arrange an appointment. The customer service rep asks where you heard about the car. From the e-mail list, you say.

For that one transaction – getting you into the showroom – you’ve touched on the following marketing vertices:

  • Banner ads (Honda year-end sales event)
  • Search ads
  • Placement-targeted links (from Boston.com/Cars)
  • Retargeting
  • E-mail marketing
Five different forms of marketing, advertising or lead generation. The ultimate goal here is to get you into the showroom so the car salespeople can go to work on you. Which ad gets the credit?

The e-mail marketing? That was the last thing you touched before calling customer service. Technically you could have gone to the showroom at any time, but you weren’t compelled to until you saw an e-mail you liked. But you never would have signed up for the e-mail if you hadn’t revisited the site and filled out the form. And you never would have revisited the site if you hadn’t been retargeted – meaning you needed to visit once and get cookied. And so on, and so on, and scooby dooby doo.

Does the last touch get credit? The first touch? Do we evenly distribute credit among all marketing efforts? Marketing departments need to know this in order to know who gets more budget next year. And if they don’t get a compelling answer, they’ll guess.

In the above example, the e-mail marketing clickthrough was the only behavior that got you to sign up for an appointment. Through a glass darkly, the first banner ad looks useless – you didn’t even click on that! No revenue generated by the banner ad, so cut display advertising for next year. But without that Honda year-end sales event banner ad, you wouldn’t have clicked on the Google ad. Fewer display impressions means less brand awareness, fewer clicks on search and fewer visitors to the site. Then marketing comes back to you next year, asking why the hell traffic to the Quincy Honda dealership website is down when search volume is higher than ever.

What you (the ad agency) need is a way to integrate data from those five different sources into one single platform. That’s called attribution analysis. There are a few companies that offer this as a service. A lot of companies try to do it in house, integrating their display reports with their search reports and their e-mail reports and mixing it into a bowl. There’s no definitive method – yet. But the demand is growing. Because after 2008 took a dump on everyone’s budgets, every marketing department in America has had to do more with less. They want to spend their budgets where they’ll do the most good. For that, you need a holistic look at all marketing data from all sources – online and offline.

What I’m doing currently (among other things) is researching attribution analysis providers. There’s no one-size-fits-all program: different companies need different attribution systems. For some clients, we might recommend a trusted partner agency; for others, we might do it ourselves. But we need to know more about the state of display, offline marketing and attribution management before we can recommend anything. That’s where I come in.

… I said you might find this post interesting.

I’ve got something to tell you far outside the black and white

Sylvia called me up on Sunday and asked if I wanted to watch Helvetica, the 2007 documentary about fonts. “Do I ever!”, I exclaimed.

Helvetica is a very dry documentary about a very fascinating subject: the role that typeset has in introducing us to products or concepts. It covers this larger theme by recounting the story of the design of the Haas Neue Grotesk font, which we today call “Helvetica”: the most common typeset in the world of Roman characters in the 20th century. Every street sign in New York, most forms of U.S. government paperwork, and practically every corporation uses it.

helvetica

The film raises the question of why Helvetica has become so ubiquitous. Does everyone use it because elements of its design seem so appealing: the firmness of the lines, the encapsulation and separation of white space? Or does Helvetica appeal to us because everyone uses it? This debate intrigued me, having started a conversation on Friday over whether mind/body unification means outside forces create our desires, or our desires look for outside forces to fulfill them. Which came first – the crossbar or the em?

The documentary as a film: good. The conversation, as I said, gets a little dry at times, with the individual words fading into the background like the strokes of a character fade into the word-picture it creates. Then you get a character like Erik Spiekermann, who compares the most common font in the world to McDonald’s, and you perk back up. Worth the 90 minutes of your time.

there’s someone in my head, but it’s not me

While visiting Chicago, waiting for a bus at Addison with my man Hawver, two street hawkers approached us. “Would you like to try some Laughing Cow light swiss?”

“Sure,” I said, being hungry. One handed me a sample pack of swiss cheese, about the size of my thumb; the other, a pack of crackers the size of a matchbox. I also got a coupon for $1.00 off a pack of said cheese.

It was tasty enough that I bought a pack the next time I went grocery shopping, to see how well it would complement my lunch. And that went so well that I’ve bought Laughing Cow several times since, even without a coupon.

I had next to zero consciousness of Laughing Cow cheese before this, my primary exposure being the yellow Vache Qui Rit bowl Fraley kept in our cupboard when we lived together. A free sample and a coupon converted me from agnostic to believer in about a week. Four months ago I had no desire for this product; now I have a modest desire. A corporation paid some marketers to sit around a conference table and instill in me a desire where none existed.

As a marketer myself, I find the process curious. As an amateur student of autoepistemology, I find it absolutely fascinating.

This desire for Laughing Cow cheese was created in me by someone else. I can track the steps that it took to happen. Which other desires of mine originated in someone else’s mind? What about my preference for Coke Zero over Diet Coke? My taste in beer? My willingness to drive a rusting import rather than trade up for a newer car? My desire to live in Cambridge? My impulse to live alone? My need to write? My preferred self-image? My religious beliefs, or lack thereof? Who put these thoughts in my head?

Really radical progressives blame modern capitalism for about half of the above. “The consumerist market,” one might say, “encourages people to buy things they don’t need. It touts conspicuous consumption as a way to distinguish yourself from your neighbors, or to alleviate the stress of your job. Consumerism obscures your true desires.”

The funny thing is: I’d agree with them. Up until the last sentence.

Most of us believe in some notion of an ego, or a soul, or some inviolate core that makes decisions. It sits inside our body, either in the center of our brain or in our (metaphorical) heart, and “watches” what happens to us, as if on a screen. When we make a decision, the ego or soul sends instructions to the limbs to move. Descartes didn’t invent this theory of consciousness, but, with the whole cogito ergo sum thing, he made it most popular.

The problem is: (1) the idea of an ego/soul that’s separate from the body it inhabits has no empirical grounding, and (2) it’s not even a satisfactory explanation.

I’m paraphrasing Daniel Dennett here: suppose there is an ego/soul, sitting inside our body, responsible for making our decisions. The answer to the question, “What’s going on in my head?” is “a mini-self is pulling the levers.” That doesn’t answer the mystery of consciousness, though. It merely raises another question: “okay, how does the mini-self make decisions? what’s going on in its head?”

Dennett offers an alternative: there is no one “seat of consciousness” within the brain:

The book puts forward a “multiple drafts” model of consciousness, suggesting that there is no single central place (a “Cartesian Theater”) where conscious experience occurs; instead there are “various events of content-fixation occurring in various places at various times in the brain”. The brain consists of a “bundle of semi-independent agencies”; when “content-fixation” takes place in one of these, its effects may propagate so that it leads to the utterance of one of the sentences that make up the story in which the central character is one’s “self”. Dennett’s view of consciousness is that it is the apparently serial account for the brain’s underlying parallelism.

“Interesting stuff, Professor,” you’re saying, “but what does this have to do with cheese?”

If what we call “consciousness” is really the body carrying out the instructions of different agencies of the brain at different times, then there is no central ego/soul. If that’s the case, then there’s no distinction between the “true desires” of the self and the “false desires” implanted in us by corporations, politicians, churches, peer groups, etc. They’re all equally legitimate inputs. My desire for Laughing Cow cheese, which I was barely conscious of six months ago, is no more artificial than my desire to hang out with a new friend, whom I hadn’t met six months ago.

I’m still not settled on what this means for my decision-making process, except that it makes my job as a marketer easier to swallow.

in every lovely summer’s day

LiveJournal blogger The Ferrett has had a couple posts of late on the Oscars “In Memoriam” Montage featured at every Academy Awards ceremony. Actors who died in the previous year get a few seconds on screen, depicted in iconic roles, while grandiose strings swell in the background.

Ferrett asks an interesting question, “If so-and-so died tomorrow, what role of theirs would get depicted for their Oscars montage?” He opened this up as a poll to his readers and some debates ensued in the comments. I think most of these debates started from the wrong premises, though.

People spent a lot of time arguing over whether Michael Caine was better in The Man Who Would Be King or The Cider House Rules or Alfie. That’s an interesting debate, but for the purpose of an Oscars montage, it’s irrelevant. The films that go into an Oscars “In Memoriam” montage have little to do with quality and everything to do with making an interesting montage.

Take Paul Scofield, for instance (2:03 in the above video). Scofield gets three quick snaps – as Mark van Doren in Quiz Show, as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons and as Judge Thomas Danforth in The Crucible. If you just wanted his best role, you could leave out everything but A Man for All Seasons; he wasn’t bad in the other two, but they’re not his best work. If we were ranking his best appearances, Henry V and Zeffirelli’s 1990 Hamlet would trump either of those.

But! We already have one shot of Scofield in period British garb. Two more like that – as King Charles in Henry V and as the Ghost in Hamlet – would have been monotonous. So you depict him in one modern role (Quiz Show) and one role that, while also period, has a different flavor than Shakespeare (The Crucible).

Charlton Heston (2:33 onward) gets four scenes, none of which are from Ben-Hur. But they already included one of his iconic roles – Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments. So they needed to show scenes from his less popular movies (The Greatest Show on Earth). They also showed an unremembered scene from a recognizable role – standing and looking quietly smug in Planet of the Apes, instead of sinking to his knees in tears. Roy Scheider gets four scenes, but they’re equally diverse: an unmemorable shot of him in Jaws, one of him as the Bob Fossalike in All That Jazz, a flat shot of him peering out a car window in The French Connection, and one I can’t even place.

An interesting montage depicts change and the passage of time. So a film montage of a star’s prior roles must include variety. James Whitmore gets one as Brooksie from The Shawshank Redemption, a role most modern audiences would recognize him from. But he also gets one from a much earlier movie of him wielding a flamethrower (I’m guessing it’s Them!, the 1954 alien invasion flick). Why? Because it’s Brooksie wielding a flamethrower!

Variety is the deciding factor. The quality of the role is not.

I harp on this only because I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing lately. Everyone acknowledges the importance of presentation in delivering a message. But few people realize how early presentation begins to affect what the final message will be. The medium, as someone wiser than me said, is the message.

With that in mind, which roles will be selected in an “in memoriam” montage for the following actors who have already died in 2009?


  • Karl Malden
  • Michael Jackson
  • Farrah Fawcett
  • David Carradine
  • Ron Silver
  • Anyone else I’ve forgot
I welcome your speculations.

you will not back up an inch ever; that’s why you will not survive

I did not intend two posts in a row on this marketing kick, but HEY.

Via eyelid on LJ, a marketing win – how advertisers have adapted to Hulu:

Watching Hulu, I was struck by their ad setup. It’s very clever, IMO.

Instead of having 5 or so ads crammed into a commercial break, just begging the watcher to tune out and walk away for awhile, Hulu puts only one ad in, every so often. And the ads are really short – 30 seconds or less, and it’s often only 15 seconds.

Hulu also puts a little line in the corner of the screen during ads letting you know exactly how short the commercial break will be (“your program will resume in 20 seconds” – and it counts down!). You know you’re going to be able to resume watching in 20 seconds, so why not just wait? I mean, 20 seconds. Come on.

And inevitably, in those 20 seconds while you are sitting and waiting, you watch the ad.

20 seconds (or at the most, 30) is really all the time an ad should need.

An excellent example of a company changing its strategy when faced with a new technology, rather than trying to cripple the new technology to fit the old paradigm. One 20-second ad every commercial break. A neat little solution.

Could there be a better solution? Sure. I haven’t come up with it yet. But I imagine some enterprising marketing guru will within the next 18 months.

To leaven the sweetness with some bitterness, a marketing failure from Google – billboards touting Google apps:

commuters whizzing or crawling to work on the Massachusetts Turnpike will see a billboard advertising Google Apps, an Internet-based alternative to Microsoft’s popular Office suite of computer programs.

And to make sure drivers pay attention, Google will post a different message on the billboard every weekday this month. The messages will recount the saga of a corporate computer manager who turns to Google Apps to cut costs and improve worker productivity.

“It’s sort of an internal monologue,’’ said Google product marketing manager Vivian Leung. “We hope that they’ll follow this story through the month.’’

Similar billboards will be displayed near major highways in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

google_billboardI would not have expected the company that revolutionized search engine advertising to fumble so egregiously in a major ad blitz. But fail they did.

Why?

  1. Google is trying to edge Microsoft Office out of the corporate environment.
  2. Who determines what office software a company uses? IT managers.
  3. IT managers make up an incredibly small fraction of the commuters on any given stretch of American highway. Except perhaps in San Francisco.
  4. And yet billboards are still really expensive.
  5. On top of that, Google will apparently change the message on each billboard twenty-one times in the month of August.
  6. That’s really, really expensive. This billboard rate card from Lamar Advertising doesn’t cover anything east of Worcester, but it’s the best benchmark I can get for Boston rates without calling up Clear Channel. So I’m going to ballpark this at $40,000 – one and a half times what a 14 x 48 with a 25 GRP* and a 4-week cycle would run you in the Worcester market.
  7. “Forty thousand bucks for a billboard? Doesn’t sound bad at all.” True, but keep in mind (A) that’s a conservative, back-of-the-ass estimate, (B) they’re paying this in New York, Chicago and San Francisco as well, and (C) Google is changing this billboard every day, which doubtless costs extra. I’ll surmise that this entire billboard campaign costs them at least $200,000, and I wouldn’t be surprised were it double that.
  8. Google can afford to spend two hundred thousand dollars. But how many IT managers are they going to reach with this? Sure, the buy itself made the news. Once. After this week, every IT manager who takes public transportation, or surface roads to work, or works in an office park outside the city, will forget it. Those who do drive past the billboard every day probably won’t slow down long enough to read all that text every weekday, just to see what’s changed. Black characters on a white background? The eye glosses right over it at 50 MPH.
  9. “But they don’t need to get a concrete message out, Professor,” you might say. “This is just an awareness campaign.” Fair enough. Online display ads – like banner ads on a prominent website – are great for awareness. They establish a presence and attract buyers early in the sales cycle. You could probably run a display campaign that got millions of targeted impressions for $200,000. In fact, I’ll bet Google could get a pretty sweet deal on a little one-sentence blurb on the most prominent search engine in the history of cognizant life on this planet.

I’m sure, of course, that Google is running display ads and banner ads and probably putting something beneath their search box in addition to these billboards. But the billboards aren’t smart money. They’re scattershot instead of targeted. They’re big and flashy, instead of customized and unobtrusive. And they belie a particular kind of old-media thinking – which is just weird, coming from a company that’s pioneered so much new media.

I could be wrong, of course. Google usually knows what they’re doing. But billboards strike me as this century’s sandwich-board men – an artifact of the old times, a slow and unreliable way of spreading a message. Google’s going retro, and I don’t think they’re being ironic.

___________________________
* GRP = Gross Rating Points, the billboard equivalent of market share. 25 GRP means that an estimated 25% of the area’s population would see the billboard once per day.

you’ve got no time for the messenger, got no regard for the things that you don’t understand

  • Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store on Sunday, I had a sudden clear vision of a slogan. Red and white on a blue background, like a candidate’s bumper sticker or T-shirt. In bold letters it reads:

    2013
    The Year We Stop Trying

    I have no idea what it means. It does not even exist yet. But I crave it.

  • News of David Ortiz’s failed drug test hit Red Sox Nation last week. RJ and I watched the drama unfold on SportsCenter in the break room at work. Chris McKendry asked Tim Kurkjian if this news came as a shock to him.

    RJ: At this point, would any name come as a shock?
    Professor (thinking a moment): Cal Ripken, Jr.
    RJ: … wow. Yeah.
    Professor: If we discover that he was juicing, I’m giving up on baseball. I’ll give it a decade to sort itself out, but I’ll stop watching.

  • Back to the grocery store, sorry.

    I like little fruit and gel cups with my lunch. The local grocery store alternates between putting Dole and Del Monte on sale; I’ll buy whichever’s cheapest. I’ve also started using coupons, too. A few weeks ago, I cashed in a coupon for 25 cents off any two packs of Dole fruit cups. As the cashier rung me up, she handed me back another coupon for 50 cents off any three packs.

    I understand the marketing theory behind coupons: create brand loyalty by pushing a user over the marginal hump separating them from a new product. Give them a taste for that soft drink, or that frosted cereal. I don’t spend enough money on groceries to make coupon clipping a good investment of time, and I don’t have a lot of room to stockpile food.

    But fruit and gelatin keep, so I used my “50 cents off three” coupon this past week. The cashier handed me a coupon giving me 75 cents off any purchase of $10 or more, courtesy of the generous folks at Dole. Nice of them. She also handed me a coupon for 75 cents off four packs of fruit cups.

    In some dark basement, the medieval twin to my own Internet marketing agency, a hook-nosed drone studies me through grainy surveillance footage. He sees me tuck the coupon behind a refrigerator magnet as I unload my groceries. His greasy fingers play with a stack of loose buckslips of increasing denomination, culminating in “take $7.50 off any thirty-one packs of fruit cups. Expires December 21, 2012.”

    “Go on,” he whispers. “What’s one more?”