LOST Lost Me, But Target Spots Hit The Mark

I haven’t been following LOST for the past 6 years like most of the millions of series finale viewers on Sunday night probably have been. It did have me in its grips for about the first 6 months, then they lost me. It kind of reminded me of the phenomenon of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks back in 1990, with its ever twisting and turning sub-plots and mysterious happenings. As with Twin Peaks, watching LOST gave me the distinct feeling that the writers were just taking it an episode at a time without any idea of where it would take them or what it all meant. I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be tied up in the end. But, for some reason I felt curious to watch the much hyped LOST finale this past weekend. Maybe all the hype sucked me in like a vacuum cleaner, but the thing that stands out in my mind now is not the mysterious ending, but these fabulous 15 second spots from Target that appeared throughout the finale:

Target sure knows how to target their customers. Or I guess the agency that creates them does. Target used their understanding of LOST’s audience, the apparent understanding of the insider images from the show and used them to their advantage. Tying the smoke monster into the selling of a smoke detector, the wild boar to BBQ sauce and the life or death inability to execute on an outdated computer to a new cordless keyboard was simply genius advertising. The spots are simple, clever, funny, completely memorable and unmistakably Target. They connected to the audience and made them feel like: “Hey, those execs at Target must watch LOST, just like me.” Like LOST viewers and Target are part of the same insider’s club.

Knowing your audience, connecting with they way they think, the things they like, the things they can relate to, all while tugging at their sense of humor, makes for a successful ad campaign. This is a prime example of how old school advertising can still connect with consumers. There was no conversing with Target going on here. Sometimes, if done correctly, a good commercial can still connect with consumers. I doubt the sale of Kraft BBQ sauce, First Alert smoke detectors or Microsoft cordless keyboards will suddenly start flying off the shelves at Target as a result, but these ads do wonders for the larger picture of Target’s own brand building. They create an image of a smart, modern, fun and savvy place to shop and save money. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

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Is New School Marketing Really That Different From Old School?

oldschoolhouseMy online friend John Cavanaugh’s recent post got me thinking about the hot rivalry between new school vs. old school marketing. We all know those feel good buzz words like transparency, conversation and engagement, but I question their truth in meaning in the online world. I am realizing that the new way of marketing is not as different from the old way as we are often led to believe. It all depends on your perspective and your approach.

Putting a business out there with a blog and on Facebook and Twitter is a good thing. It allows consumers to at least feel like the company is accessible, but does it really offer that transparency that everyone says is so essential? I think it’s more like translucence. No company is going to be completely transparent. Most companies and organizations highly monitor their Facebook posts, blog posts and Twitter feeds. They are most often manned by PR, marketing, communications or customer service people within the organization. In other words, trained professionals well-versed in the company’s mission, style, philosophy and message. These people are in fact crafting their posts to serve the best interest of the company. You know, just like advertising, only folksier.

I submit that social media usage by business is simply a newer form of advertising. Let’s face it, a Facebook page is designed to generate interest in and attention to a brand (just like advertising), with the added bonus of actually hearing and seeing what people are saying about you (just like focus groups). The point of a business gaining fans, followers and subscribers may seem like it’s about building a “community,” but when it gets right down to the core, it’s about getting a following of existing or potential customers to like your brand, with the end goal of selling whatever it is that you are selling to them (just like advertising). It’s a powerful way to get consumers to try your Kool-aid, like it, then buy it (just like handing out free samples in the grocery store). The more fans, followers and subscribers you get, the more people start talking about your brand or business around the web, which in turn builds brand awareness (just like advertising).

So I propose that we stop the bickering between the new school and the old school and realize that we’re not as different as we may think. I suggest we stop using the word “transparent,” adopt the more accurate word “translucent” instead, and just feel hopeful that businesses can no longer get away with being opaque.

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Dish Network: A Profile In Poor Marketing

DISH POSTCARD019A few weeks back, this direct mail piece came addressed to me from Dish Network. It features a picture of an olive-skinned and black haired beauty on the front and handsome dark haired, stubble-bearded man on the back. Beyond that, I cannot tell you what it says because it’s written in Arabic. My husband and I first had a little chuckle about it, but the longer this piece sat on my desk, the more it bothered me. It appears that it was sent to me because of the ethnicity of my last name, however I have a distinctly Armenian name, not Arabic. Although Armenia is in the general area of many Arabic speaking nations, Armenians actually do not speak Arabic as their native language; they speak Armenian. Different culture, different language and different alphabet altogether.

I found out that Dish Network is on Twitter, so I quickly tweeted them asking to be connected to someone in their marketing department to discuss an issue. I swiftly got a tweet back saying that I should DM them with the specific issue so that they can be sure to “connect me with the right person.” As succinctly as possible in 140 characters, I stated that I was offended by being ethnically targeted with a direct mail piece and wanted to discuss it with someone. Silence. A day passed and I sent them another DM, asking to please be connected to someone who could discuss this with me. Silence. I went to their web site, found a customer service email address and sent a message explaining the situation in detail, why it bothered me, and again asked to be connected to someone who could address this with me. Silence.

So here’s what’s so wrong with this entire scenario from a marketing, customer service and social media perspective:

1. If a company is going to send out a direct mail piece, then they better be darn sure they know who they are targeting.

2. Making an ill-informed assumption that someone with a name from a certain ethnic group speaks a certain language is wrong for several reasons. In my case:
- Armenians aren’t native Arabic speakers. Some Armenian may speak Arabic, but that’s not typical. Clumping everyone with heritage from that region of the world into a general category of Middle Eastern and making assumptions based on that, negates the richness of Armenian culture and the myriad of other cultures that grew from that region.
- I am a 2nd generation Armenian-American. Not only do I not speak or read Arabic, but I do not even speak Armenian (except for a few words like girl, yogurt, dog and how are you) and can’t read it at all. I happen to speak and read English as my native language.
- For all the Dish Network marketers know, I may not even be Armenian. I could be from any ethnic group, and simply married to someone with an Armenian name.
- Even if my heritage were from an Arabic speaking culture, why would it be assumed that I speak and read Arabic?

3. If a company has a presence in social media, then they are essentially inviting people to contact them with comments, suggestions or problems. If a consumer does contact them via social media with a problem, then they are obliged to answer. What’s the point of being there if they don’t? To just have the appearance of being accessible?

4. If a company tells someone that they will connect them with the “right” person, then should connect them with the right person, not just ignore them.

5. If a company has a contact email on their website and someone takes the time to contact them, explain a problem, and ask for assistance, then they should respond to them, not just ignore them.

Yes, I admit, this post is a bit of a rant, but I am angry that I have been targeted and profiled in this way. I am angry that I tried to contact Dish Network to discuss this and was even invited to do so. But instead of offering me some kind of response, they chose to ignore me instead.
Moral of the story:
1. Direct mail campaigns based on ethnic or racial profiling are probably not a good idea.
2. If a consumer has a problem or complaint, then it’s probably a good idea for the company to respond (in English).

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The Domino’s Effect: Is Being Bad Good For Business?

Domino’s Pizza has recently launched a new TV ad campaign which not only announces attempts to improve the quality of their pizzas, but incorporates the negative feedback from consumers about their product. Now, I know that transparency, listening to your customers, engaging with them and responding to their needs and complaints head on is the hip thing for big business to do in this age of social media interaction, but the fact that Domino’s Pizza tastes awful is not really a new revelation.

The thing that kills me here is that this piece was presumably shot in a test kitchen somewhere deep in the bowels of Domino’s corporate headquarters in Michigan. This kitchen is teeming with chefs in white garb scurrying around doing their important work of trying to make Domino’s pizza taste good. Is this test kitchen something new? Do these chefs not have taste buds? Have they never taken a bite of their own product? I find it ridiculous that Domino’s is presenting this bad food issue as a revelation. “Shocking,” as the head chef says. What I find shocking is that a trained chef is so shocked that people think their pizza tastes bad, and that they needed a focus group to figure that out. This campaign, instead of instilling confidence in their abilities, demonstrates just how clueless they are about food.

This company has been around since the late ’60s. It’s common knowledge on the street that Domino’s Pizza isn’t bought for its great taste. The reason people buy it in spite of its lackluster taste, is because it’s convenient, fast and cheap. That’s what they have established as the Domino’s brand. For years the message was all about the price and the speed at which your pizza would arrive at your door. There have been several traffic accidents with personal injury and death to drive that fact home. Domino’s has created a fast food pizza chain, not a gourmet pizza chain, and if the intent is to reinvent the brand now, then I think they have a nearly impossible challenge. It may be a little too late to try to convince consumers that Domino’s is anything more than a cheap greasy pizza that will be delivered to their homes quickly.

The irony here is that the premise of the campaign seems to be that consumers are supposed to feel good that Domino’s cares what they have to say, but if they made good pizza to begin with, then there would be no point to the campaign. Adding garlic and herbs to the sauce, earth shattering! Brushing the crust with olive oil, genius! Using aromatic cheese, innovative! Pizza is pretty basic: good dough, good sauce, good cheese, fresh toppings and some herbs = good pizza. This isn’t rocket science, just common sense: If you make food, then it should taste good.

The big lesson here for a business, whatever it is, should be that it should be the best it can be from the get go. Know what your mission is, know what your priorities and goals are and create your business model to achieve those goals, and yes, make sure your product is good. Understand the brand that you want to build, because once it’s built, it’s pretty difficult to change gears and turn it into something different. There is a learning curve when building brands and along the way adjustments need to be made, but there’s no excuse for waiting nearly 50 years to realize that your product stinks. If this truly was a concern for the brand, then action should have and would have been taken long ago. The priority for the brand clearly has always been low price and fast delivery.

Although some people seem to be lauding Domino’s for their new candid approach to quality control, they have not converted me. I don’t believe that the “chefs,” given their shock, have the ability to know the difference between good and bad, and I don’t understand why it took a food company so long to figure out that their food doesn’t taste good. Instead of creating confidence in the brand, it demonstrates their lack of understanding of their own market and their own products. It will be interesting to see if they can convert the masses on this one.

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If I Give You A Free Hamburger, Will You Be My Friend?

I was watching TV last night and saw this commercial for T.G.I. Friday’s announcing their new hamburger giveaway campaign:

In the commercial, Woody, a presumed faux customer and big time fan of the restaurant chain, announces a new Facebook campaign for Friday’s that pitches the viewer to become a Woody fan on Facebook and receive a free burger. Maybe Woody is the real #1 fan of Friday’s, but I’m not buying it, and even if I did, it doesn’t matter.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the whole point of a brand participating in social media to build brand awareness through a real engagement between a real person from a company and their real consumers? To me, this campaign crosses a line between social media and advertising. Advertising is a wide-open venue where a company can create characters to act like a customer. Consumers understand that. Social media is supposed to be real. You can’t buy customer loyalty by having a fake customer giving away free hamburgers.

Creating a character to give away hamburgers and build a following on Facebook is fine I guess, but what’s the point? After the hamburgers are given away, will anyone remain friends with Woody? What is Friday’s trying to do here, create a slacker version of Ronald McDonald? Dress a clown in a pair of jeans and a beanie cap, and he’s still a clown.

Like all companies, Friday’s must have a couple of real life characters wandering the hallways at their corporate headquarters that would perhaps be more effective in leading a social media campaign. Consumers don’t want a hired character to chat with about hamburgers. They’ll take his free hamburgers, but they don’t care about him. It comes off as having something to hide, an avoidance of letting down the guard and opening the door for a real conversation, which sometimes might not be positive. Consumers want to feel like their voice can be heard and that what they say matters to the brands that they are loyal to. Involve your customers, ask for their opinions and suggestions and if giving something away helps as a thank you, then go ahead, give something away. But that can’t be the only benefit. It needs to be an ongoing engagement.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that Woody will indeed get a huge following of “friends” simply to get their free burgers, but the friendship won’t last long. They’ll take the bait; they’ll eat it, and then abandon poor Woody after their bellies are full. If you offer a shallow campaign, then the response will be equally as shallow. Free stuff is great, but it’s not good enough to sustain a lasting relationship. I think Woody will be looking for a new job and new friends in no time.

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