Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Favorite Holiday Campaigns

As the year ends, I'd like to share my top picks for winning holiday communications. My fav is Discovery Channel's video holiday card. Years back, I worked on the launch of Animal Planet, and the Discovery team always sends a spectacular holiday card. This year, they went digital for a spectacular result.

Runner up is the Stove Top Stuffing heated bus shelter promotion in Chicago. It generated tons of media, good will and set Kraft's Stove Top Stuffing apart at the holiday season. Better yet, the sponsored shelters delivered immediate value back to the consumer, in this case warmth! For those of you living in warmer climates, it's perhaps difficult to imagine what it means to step into a heated bus shelter on a day when icy winds blow across Lake Michigan and cut into your skin.

Both brands deliver big on compassion--one of the key trends for marketing in the new year. They are simple, authentic, and just plain delightful. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. (Take my word for it on the delights of the heated bus shelter).


photo courtesy of Zolk

Impersonating a Governor Over at Twitter

Beleaguered Governor Rod Blagojevich was out Twittering yesterday. Or so it seemed. I followed the chatter a little and watched him rack up over 200 followers. Then I blogged about it over at HuffPo asking is this real or is it an impostor? My post noted with some irony that Blagojevich himself passed into law a bill making the impersonation of a public official a Class 2 felony. This morning, I got a tweet from the impostor and I saw that he had amended his profile clearly stating he's NOT the Governor of Illinois. Interesting.

What this hoax demonstrates is that it’s open season on Rod Blagojevich’s reputation. His nothing-to-lose situation is being further amplified across Twitter, one of the world’s most viral social networking platforms.

This behavior is a wake-up call to all politicians hoping to protect their identities. And it's a first-hand example of the wild, wild Web where identity theft is common. To wit, an unscrupulous person can craft an account in your name, use your photo and launch a very public conversation thereby hijacking your brand.

It also poses a question for Twitter. Should it block felonious accounts? If the impostor comes clean in their profile is he/she still breaking the law? Is it a matter of First Amendment rights for the Twit?

Ahh the wild, wild Web.

photo courtesy of Jemima

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

US Cultural Infrastructure Shovel Ready?

When we think of who might benefit from the Obama Administration's "shovel-ready" infrastructure stimulus program, what comes to mind are roads, bridges and highways. Not zoos and aquariums. But the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has stepped up on behalf of its members to tout the “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects at the nation’s zoos and aquariums. Surely the informal educational structure that so many Americans benefit from should be eligible for stimulus funding, too. The AZA threw some green-speak into its request, pairing job creation rhetoric with long-term environmental concerns. Better yet, there is economic activity that zoos and aquariums stimulate that makes the investment a good bet. The AZA cites that across roughly 200 institutions, $7.6 billion in economic activity is generated every year and helps to keep 100,000 people employed.

I say public libraries and museums need to make a similar case. As we dive deeper into an economy more driven by ideas, our cultural infrastructure will matter. Think of it as the stimulus for experimentation, insight, cross-cultural exchange, community building, lifelong learning and enlightenment.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sponsorship Monday: The New Deal

Interesting piece in Adweek today urging corporate marketers to strengthen their brands by borrowing a page from the great Franklin D. Roosevelt. Author Roberto Ramos makes the business case for crafting a compassion brand, which I wrote about a few months back in AdAge.

The good news for quality causes is that marketers are seriously rethinking their sponsorship portfolios. Look for some adjustments that bring cause-marketing (usually only 10% of the budget) and sports marketing (typically over 60% of the budget) more into balance. So while there will be fewer dollars overall in the marketing budget, there will be more parity in how it gets spent. As Mr. Ramos explains:

"One of the reasons for the New Deal's lasting legacy was its principled focus on the well-being of individual and communities. A lesson for brands is that they must demonstrate caring during these difficult times, as well as a steadfast commitment to your values. This is also a ripe time to assess your public affairs initiatives and to test cause-marketing programs."

Sounds like a new deal to me!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Truth is Stranger than Fiction: Americans Say They Still Love to Read

One of the aspects of the RenGen: Renaissance Generation, that I get a lot questions about is their appreciation for reading as a leisure activity. I think people have gotten confused by mixed information. For example, during the Bush administration the NEA produced reports saying Americans are not reading, and in particular they're not reading the classics.

A new Harris Poll confirms that Americans still say they love to read for pleasure. It ranked at the top of the list, in fact. As for the classics, neither Harris' research nor mine ever asked people to reveal what they read for pleasure. My hunch is that the NEA had that part right, but it's also a values-laden point of query.

The bad news in the report is that American's leisure time continues to erode. We are now down to 10 hours per week to call our own, compared to 26 in 1973. No wonder the RenGen have expectations that their work must be fulfilling and tap their creative talents. If you are spending 50-60 hours a week at a'd better feel engaged!

Top 5 Favorite Leisure-Time Activities (% of Respondents, Unaided Responses)

Television watching
Family time
Computer activities

Source: Harris Poll, October 2008

Photo courtesy of Mozida

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Girls in the Game: Hope for a New World at Christmas

On a frigid Monday afternoon, I crunched my way across the frozen lawn leading up to the Union Park Field House in Chicago for a meeting with Girls in the Game. The non-profit gives girls a leg up by involving them in sports and leadership experiences. I was there to be interviewed by a group of girls who had researched my business and my life in advance.

My assistant, Katie, volunteers for the program and asked me if I'd do it. As the week's deadlines started to press down upon me, I questioned my sanity for agreeing to it. All that melted away when I met the girls. Open,curious, full of confidence--their energy was a tractor beam sucking me in.

The girls had done their homework. They took turns asking very specific questions. They listened intently to my answers, which is a skill we could all develop better. I like to believe that girls this sharp and self-confident have bright futures. I could actually feel the sense of promise in the room. It buoyed me for the rest of the day.

As we move into the beating heart of the holidays, I am grateful to have received one of the best gifts of all this week: a peak into a future generation of young women. And it looks very bright, indeed.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mama's Got a Brand New Blog

Last month, I was invited to join the Huffington Post's team of bloggers. Since then I've observed that the comments people post are really thoughtful. Arianna has built quite a community of citizens zealous about raising the level of engagement online. That's a remarkable accomplishment given the scads of Internet trolls out there eager to throw rotten tomatoes. Now I just need to encourage HuffPo to improve its privacy policies. One thing at a time.

My recent post about Rick Warren's marketing savvy drove lots of comments. But not so many as the shirtless photo of our President-elect. Let's be realistic. Can anything trump a revealing glam shot of Mr. Obama? Now that I think of it, it actually surprises me that more was not made of his handsome good looks by the media during the campaign. Well, the downloads on the beach-wear photo crashed the server. I guess that speaks for itself.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sponsorship Monday: Holiday Experiences Can Defrost Budgets

Worried about what 2009 holds for your sponsorship budget? It’s not too late to cultivate for next year. Look around. Got any holiday events for which you can invite prospects? People these days make entertainment choices at the last minute, so your offer won't seem a bit out of place.

During the holidays, it’s all about human connections and shared experiences. Get on the phone or roll up to your keyboard and get in touch to say, “We just discovered we have extra tickets for …and thought you might enjoy being my guest.” Keep in mind that sponsorship’s business model is rooted in reciprocity.
photo courtesy of TWL Loughlin

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Consumer Retreat Writ Large

I've been chatting about consumer retreat away from materialism for some time now. Some pundits see it as collateral damage from the poor economy.

At the holidays, it's especially good for people to have a noble purpose if they're not in a position to consume. But it's worth considering that this shift in consumer attitudes is not so much about making a virtue of necessity as it is a restructuring of values. People are looking for meaning and not finding it in shopping. That phenomenon was set in motion well before the collapse of financial markets.

Shopping started to feel empty when the greater costs of cheap goods became known--from sweat shops to fuel to high-fructose additives. When having a pantry over flowing with bulk purchases from warehouses like Sam's Club resulted in obese children. When everybody could suddenly afford a mansion-like home. Conspicuous consumption becomes inconspicuous when everyone has the same stuff. Online shopping removed us from the human connection we enjoy at retail. We've all had that experience of receiving such remarkable good service that it became part of our personal lore.

I recall a frigid day in February when the parking garage near Marshall Field's would not read any of my credit cards. With my car held hostage, I trundeled up to the Marshall Field's Customer Service window and explained my dilemma to a woman who had the bearing of a Field's veteran: polite, albeit a little stern, well-dressed, and helpful. I asked if she would cash a check so that I could get out of the parking lot. She disappeared into a back room. In a few minutes she returned with cash. "Hold out your hand," she said. She peeled off $25 dollars. I reached for my checkbook. " No, no." She waved me away. "It's freezing cold, Madam. Mr. Field would not want one of his customers trapped in this weather." I will never forget it and tell that story to anyone who will listen.
So we are embarking on an exciting time, when a new set of values must emerge. I look forward to a year of tracking them as they do. For now I am counting the joy of small blessings.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Procrastination

Glancing at the calendar I freaked. Christmas is a little over a week away. I haven't begun my shopping yet. According to a new survey from the National Retail Federation, I'm not alone. Americans are way behind on their holiday shopping. In fact, 41 million of us haven't even started. Only 8% say they have completely finished. And consumers are using fewer credit cards: Two-thirds of shoppers (66.2%) have primarily used cash, debit cards, or checks to pay for holiday purchases, up from 64.5% last year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Economist Magazine Boards the RenGen Clue Train

The vaunted Economist magazine reports that the rising number of cultural consumers is an observable trend in England:

"We’ve all heard about dumbing down. But there is plenty of evidence that the opposite is also true. Is this, in fact, the age of mass intelligence?"

Reporter John Parker details his observations in a compelling article entitled, "The Age of Mass Intelligence" that leads me to conclude that the RenGen, with its desire to consume and produce ideas, creative work, and information, is not just a U.S. phenomenon.

photo courtesy of McBeth

Monday, December 15, 2008

More Evidence of the Changing Consumer Culture

More evidence of the deep re-ordering of American culture came by way of a report unveiled today, entitled, "Grounding the American Dream: A Cultural Study on the Future of Consumerism in a Changing Economy." It portrays a society in the early stages of a traumatic transformation.

The report reinforces much of what I discovered in researching RenGen: Renaissance Generation and provides interesting background for marketers looking to enmesh their brands into the new culture that's emerging. To do so, brands will need to weave themselves into the social fabric to avoid being shed.

Based on ethnographic research conducted in October and November in New York City, Baltimore, Miami, San Antonio, Texas and Lexington, Kentucky, the research team plots a five-stage process consumers are undergoing as they struggle through a major cultural transformation. The process explains how they're coping and rebuilding their lives amidst the faltering "American Dream," an essential component that the late Joseph Campbell once identified as American culture's core "organizing mythology." When organizing mythologies are up for revision, it marks a change in the deep order of society.

"This is more than an economic crisis, it's a cultural crisis. As anthropologists, we knew the aftershocks would be far-reaching, so we took to streets, schools, malls and homes to understand the impact," said Dr. Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist on the project and co-founder of Context-Based Research Group.

Most people will undergo a process and emerge with a new consumer identity the researchers call the "Grounded Consumer." The stages are:

Stage 1: The Realization: Goodbye Homo economicus - this is when consumers come to understand how the larger economy intersects with their personal economy and what they need to do to make changes. As part of this stage they're realizing that they are not what they buy. This new thinking forces the revaluation of all purchases.

Stage 2: How Did I Get Here? My Life is Not a Loan - consumers are assessing their situations and realizing it's fatal to live a life on credit. Living below your means is now becoming en vogue.

Stage 3: Creating a New Value Equation: Moving from a "Me" to a "We" Economy - this involves a movement toward emphasizing a new kind of value equation that moves consumers from putting "me" first to putting "we" first. In this equation decisions truly balance rational, emotional, and social needs.

Stage 4: unSTUFFing My Life: Building a New Consumer Toolkit - this is when consumers get practical as they start to remove excess "STUFF" from their lives. They're belt tightening, but still finding ways to obtain gratification, through little luxuries - proclaiming it's time to "trim the fat, not the fun."

Stage 5: Walking the Talk: Putting New Skills into Action - the first four stages lead up to life-altering transformations. The new Grounded Consumer who emerges is ultimately better, smarter and more connected than their predecessors and they realize the road to the achieving the American Dream isn't paved with purchases.

The research was sponsored by Carton Donofrio Advertsing Agency.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Toyota Sponsors High School Marketing Competition

Toyota's Scion division has just launched a very RenGen campaign by offering a blank canvas to high-school marketing teams in rural Midwest and Northwest regions. The effort, "High School Marketing Competition," has high school students from eight cities vying for $5,000 worth of school supplies by putting together a marketing campaign. Competing teams have to create proposals outlining ideas they think will appeal to young customers in their local areas.

According to Marketing Daily, the competition will be carried out in a bracket-style format with both Scion and marketing executives judging each presentation. Eight schools will be selected from the initial submissions pool in each region to move on to local competitions in Portland, Ore., Kansas City, and Cincinnati, Ohio. Out of those 24 schools, the top three in each region will be chosen to advance to the final competitions in each market with the top three schools in each market competing against each other for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes.

Owen Peacock, Scion's national manager of Scion field operations, says the company created the competition to give high school students the experience of putting together a marketing campaign for a major brand. "It shows our dealers in the smaller markets that this is a great opportunity to be a part of the community and enhance local education systems, plus it demonstrates that you do not need to have a nightclub or a major attraction in your market to connect with young buyers," he says.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Aspiring Musicians Get Heard in L.A.

In Los Angeles "muzak" is being kicked up a notch. The city is piloting a new program for unsigned music artists to submit original music to be played while citizens wait on hold. Titled "Hear in L.A." the program seeks to recognize promising Los Angeles musical stars creating original songs in all genres of music (Rock, Latin, Pop, Rap, Jazz, R&B, Electronic/Dance, Instrumental...)

Starting this fall, the Department of Cultural Affiars will welcome unsigned LA musicians/groups and pay each act for permission to play one original composition on City of LA 311 phone lines. This new program is called Hear in L.A. Each September/October, DCA in partnership with the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI), will review, compile, fund, and promote an annual collection of new songs to showcase promising musical acts for telephone callers while they are on hold with the city's 311 call-center. In order to cross-promote the selected talent, artist headshots and biographies will be posted on the City of LA DCA website.

Monday, December 8, 2008

How to Thrive When Things Dive

Some people are thriving in this horrendous market for sponsorship deals. Others are scraping rock bottom. What are the winners doing right? Those who are thriving are helping their sponsors solve larger problems. Take, for example, the automotive category which has an immense sponsorship budget. Right now car companies need to re-stage their entire category. To do so, they need to step up production of hybrids and engines that run on alternative fuel. So then why is NASCAR, which relies on sponsors for 80% of their revenues, ignoring the green crisis and the plight of their most generous sponsors? Because they are hoping it will all blow over and the economy will be back to normal.

It will not. The shift underway is profound.

Now automotive sponsors are dropping out of NASCAR. They’re not happy. The good news is NASCAR’s loss is your gain. It leaves room for more modest deals. For all of you wondering how to reach out and make deals happen with car dealers, I advise you to take a page from Peter Bramante in Providence, Rhode Island. Peter struck a deal with Scott VW to sponsor a new event, the Indie Arts Festival. There were three staging areas for vehicles, on-site test drives and a custom promotion around a facial hair contest held in Burnside Park named for the furry General Burnside the namesake for “side burns.” Winners did a victory lap in VW convertibles. Scott VW told Peter they’d be back as a sponsor, having sold three vehicles as a direct result of the deal. They’re happy.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Saying Thanks: The Movie

Thanking people is always a good idea. But thanking sponsors has gotten pretty routine. So much so, that it becomes a meaningless soup of logos and names. How can you really make it worthwhile for everyone--audience, sponsors, media? Recently, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers decided to tackle that challenge by producing a film noir trailer to thank the sponsors of its 2008 showcase in Chicago. The show spotlights commercial production and awards excellence in both conventional commercial advertising and new media. With a modest budget and just six weeks to produce something unusual, Foundation Production attacked the challenge of integrating the logos with fierce creativity. The result should inspire you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kleenex Appeals to Latino RenGen

In an effort to reach Latino RenGen, Kleenex brand is planning a campaign around Hispanic Heritage Month that invites Hispanic artists to create culturally relevant designs using any type of media, that can be transferred digitally onto a Kleenex brand facial tissue carton.

The effort, "Con Kleenex, Expresa tu Hispanidad" (With Kleenex, Express Your Hispanic Culture), begins now. Those who enter must include a personal statement about what heritage means to them. Consumers can vote for the three winning entries online, in conjunction with judging from the Kleenex brand managers.

Three grand-prize winners will each receive $5,000, and may have their original designs featured on Kleenex brand upright boxes that will be available in stores nationwide next September and October. Nine finalists will each receive $500.

Kimberly Clark's Kleenex brand seems to understand the power of offering a blank canvas to cultural consumers. And it will be interesting to see if the concept has the same pull as their dramatic "Let It Out" campaign that invited consumers to unburden themselves emotionally (and use Kleenex to mop up.) The campaign was a stand-out example of how to build a compassion brand for these unsettling times.

For a September 2008 study on paper products by Chicago-based marketing firm Mintel, the firm polled 19,378 adults 18 or over. The firm says that younger consumers in its survey are generally less concerned with the quality or performance of their facial tissues, and are willing to buy based solely on brand image (packaging) and reputation. Hence the appeal to aspiring Latino/a artists.

photo by Riot Jane

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Learning How to Change Your Life

Transformation is everywhere. People are looking to rebuild, renew, or even reboot their careers. That's why Seth Godin's latest project caught my eye. He is offering an apprenticeship. Not an intern, but an apprentice. There's an important difference.

An apprenticeship builds skill and depth of knowledge. By working alongside a master, an apprentice witnesses the way new questions arise and get answered and how work flows creatively into uncharted waters. There is mutual commitment to handing down a way of life.

Over the years, internships have become yet another credential to notch on one's bedpost. American education is bloated with credentialing. But has it created better workers? Has it made a true difference in the quality of work? I see no evidence that it does.

Apprenticeship learning is on the rise. After all, the high cost and long haul of earning a second degree may not deliver the expected transformation in a person's career. Then what? As learning styles evolve away from classic academics and toward experiential learning, apprenticeships will gain more appeal.

Whatever Seth is working on, it's on the leading usual.

photo courtesy of Ian Sand

Monday, December 1, 2008

Big Culture Attracts Sponsors to O2

O2 Arena is the UK's largest and most eclectic venue. Since the O2 opened in south-east London 15 months ago, more than 10 million people have passed through the building. According to the London Independent, 2.2 million-a-year tickets sold make it the world’s busiest music venue, ahead of New York’s Madison Square Garden. But behind the public face of concerts, exhibitions and film screenings, the former Millennium Dome has also become an incubator for innovative sponsorships, enabling marketers to break new ground in marketing.

Consider the Japanese computer giant NEC, which gets to incorporate the company’s latest technology into a preview event before attendees are taken upstairs to watch a show. Gina Paskins, NEC’s head of marketing and communications, says it’s a perfect schmoozing environment.

The venue has 11 founding partners, each paying more than a £1m for sponsorship rights, and each taking a wholly different approach. BMW is the brand that has positioned itself at the O2’s most exclusive entrance, placing one of its new BMW X6 models on a plinth alongside the sliding doors where artists and VIP ticket holders arrive, before walking along a corridor decorated with the words signifying the brand’s values, such as “exhilaration”, “performance”, and “precision”.

Size and scale matter in these deals. O2 is gigantic. But surely, the ability to place one's brand into a cultural venue that gives the consumer a context that is emotionally relevant is every bit as valuable as the number of impressions.