Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What's So Cool about Cory Doctorow?

Last week, I returned to my office after a flurry of meetings to find a nice little email from Cory Doctorow. "Yes, let's connect when I'm in Chicago," he said. Doctorow is one of those rare talents who tips the culture with sticky concepts like "whuffie"-- a reputation-based currency. (A new book by Tara Hunt titled The Whuffie Factor exploits the concept further.)

This weekend, I rooted myself in the sand at Gordon Beach in Michigan and re-read Doctorow's dystopian novel "Little Brother." It's a gut punch for those unclear about the dangers of surveillance and privacy abuses. Doctorow has backed the ALA's attempt to crystallize for library patrons their rights in controlling what happens to their information in a world where privacy is virtually non-existent.

Griffin Theatre Company in Chicago has adapted "Little Brother" for the stage to rave reviews. Doctorow, an energetic proponent of Creative Commons, made his content available for adaptation without the usual hoops and formalities. He's coming to see the show in a few weeks. While he's in town, I will sit down with him to hear his thoughts on what it takes to get your "whuffie" on in a world overflowing with creative content.

So...what's so cool about Cory Doctorow? He has the attributes of a great contemporary brand: he's authentic, has a voice, is connected, committed, and remains accessible to his tribe for collaboration. He's a poster child for the RenGen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Killer proposals: Testimonials That Motivate

A few months ago, I posted this and it got a lot of views. Believing it might be useful, I am re-posting it now:

There is a “me too” factor in sponsorship marketing. Sponsors want to join a successful endeavor. And one way they'll measure your cred is to see if other well-known brands are already sponsoring your property. That's why including testimonials in your proposals is so powerful. Consider also that ac­cess to your cosponsors can be very enticing. If a sponsor sees one of the company’s prospects among your sponsors, he or she will have added motivation to invest.

In a killer sponsorship proposal, the testimonials page should be more than a list of companies or logos. It includes endorsement remarks that both answer objections you anticipate from prospects and emphasize the top motivations all sponsors share.

A few examples:

Consideration: Will it really help me grow my business?

“Our tie with this event was a key motivator for our sales associates. We turned 6% more in sales that we directly attribute to our sponsorship.”
—Brand Manager, ABC Beverage Company

Consideration: Will it be easy to implement?

“This is our third year sponsoring the event. We like the help we get from very professional event managers who help us execute. It makes our lives a lot easier.”
—Director of Community Relations, LMN Financial Services

Consideration: Will I gain more brand awareness?

“The press coverage alone was a boon. Not to mention the way we were touted in all their advertisements and signage.”
—Director of Marketing, XYZ Computer Company

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Recently Met With My Publisher...

I recently met with my publisher. She lamented the state of her industry. Sales are flat. Innovation dawns at a snail's pace. So naturally, my curiosity was peaked by the latest from Glen Cummings and Adam Michaels. From June 26 - 29 "X" (the Xhibition) will combine gallery exhibition with a book launch and a music project. It proves the point that a great way to revive a brand, idea, category--whatever--is to fuse it with something else. "X" documents the trajectory of the x symbol within (and without) underground music culture." It is the first step of an ongoing project, building upon the varied meanings and form of the x in a range of media. As a clever participation device, "Attendees are encouraged to contribute materials to future iterations of the project." Very RenGen. In New York? Check it out at W/---- Gallery, 141 Division Street in New York.

Hat tip to Steven Heller.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Go Ask Alice

The consumer packaged goods industry is a nightmare right now. Stores have their own brands. They compete with major brands for shelf space. It's a losing battle with ever-shrinking margins. Consumers have busy lives and shrinking wallets. They need help managing sales, coupons and special offers, right? I mean, who can keep it all straight. Alice says she can.

A new website aspires to help manage your household basics is called Alice. It’s the work of serial entrepreneurs Brian Wiegand and Mark McGuire. As the site explains: “You tell Alice what you buy — choosing from great deals on 1000’s of products — and we go to work. We organize all of your products, find coupons and deals for you, remind you when you might be running low, and help you order just the items you need so you can avoid the chore of household shopping. And all this convenience comes direct to your door with free shipping included.”

Here's how it works: the manufacturers set the prices and pay Alice for fulfillment, shipping and all the consumer behavior data the service can suck up, the better to target their marketing. “The CPG industry spends billions of dollars each year trying to influence consumer behavior through traditional advertising, and much of that spending is wasted,” said McGuire. “In contrast to this ‘spray and pray’ approach, Alice allows manufacturers to connect directly with consumers through targeted couponing, sampling and loyalty programs. The result is more accountability for the advertiser and more value for the end consumer.”

In a more mature online retailing landscape, Alice’s chances depend on several things. First, it needs a critical mass of top brands. Right now it has 6,000-item inventory. It has to hope its model, which requires a minimum purchase of six items, will support free shipping of low-margin goods. And it has to find enough of the right people. Those for whom shopping is painful and time consuming. Last week I swore off my local 1950's style grocery store for being both.

I've returned to shopping at my quaint little market. It's just up the street. It has a better butcher than Whole Foods and half the price. It's near the farmer's market so it's a convenient one-stop shop. But mainly, I feel like Norm from Cheers when I walk in the door. The bell tinkles. Everyone looks up and calls my name. I belong. It gives me my hyper-local community fix.

I think Alice is a swell idea. I just can't be sure which consumer will like it best. Busy Mom who get her "community fix" elsewhere? Stay-at-home Dad who'd rather not be seen in the grocery store at noon? Or is it the office manager who orders sundries for a mid-sized business? Whomever it turns out to be, it must be the consumer for whom maintaining a steady supply of staples is such a hassle it requires an online answer. Not me. You maybe?

photo of my local market courtesy of Jim Deane

Monday, June 22, 2009

Signage: A sponsor's friend or a sponsor's enemy?

Budweiser recently took a slap on the wrist for dotting the Rogue River with its logo on way-finding signage: “Fishing hole this way.” It’s tough for any sponsor to know precisely where to place their logo. But when Mother Nature is involved, it can be especially prickly.

To environmentalists, the beer maker’s presence was intrusive. To local sportsmen out for a day’s fishing, the signs may have been helpful. Although, a person wonders if canny local fishermen need signs saying, “Fishing hole this way.”

It’s a tough call. Many sponsors face similar dilemmas when they journey into uncharted waters. The plain truth is that consumers are far more sensitive to sponsorship than most other forms of marketing. It’s a good new/bad news scenario. Good news: a brand can bond emotionally with consumers through sponsorship. Bad news: emotions can backfire. Slap a logo in the wrong place for the wrong reasons and you’ll have consumer mutiny.

Where did Budweiser go wrong? It was looking to exploit a favorite pastime—fishing—to reach loyal beer drinkers—fishermen. No harm no foul. But the exchange of value wasn’t there. They got more presence than they gave back in value to the fishermen, not to mention the kayakers and rafters who share the river.

Corporate sponsorship is about reciprocity. You’re making something possible for the consumer. That “something” can turn out to be either useful or delightful. I applaud the risk Bud’s brand team took. But I question where and why they dropped anchor.

Read more about the story here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ford's Fiesta Movement Takes Off

Patricia originally posted this entry on February 24th, 2009, as Ford's Fiesta Movement was beginning to take off, and we thought it was worth revisiting this creative campaign. Now Ford has chosen their 100 agents, and sent them on various "missions" in their new Fiestas. Check out their progress here.

When I graduated from college, my first vehicle was a Ford Fiesta. At the time, the Fiesta was Ford's attempt to fend off the more energy efficient Japanese imports. Things cycle around and now Ford is ramping up an ambitious viral campaign for the re-launch of Fiesta in the U.S. 2010, by giving away 100 of them to influential Millennials.

The company is looking for 100 "agents" to receive the car this April, complete Ford-assigned "missions" and chronicle their experiences through their social networks such as Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. The company has dubbed this effort its "Fiesta Movement."

Ford has set up a Web site, www.fiestamovement.com, where people can upload a two- to-five-minute video explaining why they want to become one of the agents. So far, 1,500 people have applied, according to Ford.

By the time of the Fiesta's U.S. launch, Millennials will account for 28% of the country's driving population (a total of 70 million new drivers). The movement gives the company an opportunity to connect with the group before they have established brand loyalty while appealing to their affinity for social networking and technology.

If the 100 winners enjoy their Fiestas half as much as I did, the buzz will be boisterous.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Amex's Sponsorship Mantra: Let Me Entertain You

Amex is looking to embed itself into the culture by sponsoring entertainment venues and experiences. It's less about brand awareness, and more about being a part of extraordinary moments in their cardholders lives. Courtney Kelso, vice president of sponsorship marketing at American Express, recently shared his thoughts on the New York-based financial services company's sponsorship interests:

Q: What determines Amex sponsorships?
A: We think about partnerships in terms of what overlaps with cardmembers' passions. Our cardmembers are voracious consumers of entertainment, and music is a big area of interest. First and foremost, it's about cardmembers and providing value for them.

Q: How about at the Grammy Museum? What is American Express' brand presence there?
A: Slight. It's minimal. For us, this was not about logo-slapping, or about getting our brand in front as many people as possible. It's about supporting the community of artists and the Grammys, and also about access and benefits for cardmembers.

Q: Is American Express focused on building more bricks-and-mortar sponsorships with theaters, arenas and the like?
A: We do several venue relationships, but we also work with non-venue-specific partnerships. We have a new relationship with Front Line Management (which handles acts like Aerosmith, Christina Aguilera, and Guns N' Roses, and is now part of Ticketmaster) that allows us to provide cardmembers access to touring musicians.

Q: What about sponsoring a specific tour or music act?
A: That's a tactic a lot of companies use, but what we choose to do, rather than associate with one or two tours, is to associate with many acts that provide access to a lot of artists and genres through, for instance, Madison Square Garden, Frontline Management and AEG Live.

Q: So American Express doesn't want to use these partnerships as a bullhorn for branding?
A: I would say that, for us, it's not as much about brand presence, or "American Express presents," it's about the deeper relationship we can form [with these organizations].

Photo courtesy of Alossix

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chicago Director Kyle Alvarez Debuts First Film in Vegas

Meet Kyle Alvarez. A young, ambitious Chicago filmmaker who is officially launching his first feature film: Easier With Practice, this Friday at CineVegas Film Festival in Las Vegas.

I learned about Kyle through an acquaintance. And I plan to follow his exploits because I'm sure his journey will be chock full of instructive lessons for other creatives looking to launch their work.

Film festivals are critical. Kyle explains, "We have two goals for the festival screenings. One is to get as many locals into the theater as possible, we want to sell out our screenings! Secondly, we want to make sure as much industry and press are there at the screenings too; they have a lot of options." Ultimately, Kyle wants to sell his film for distribution. "But nowadays that takes time," he tells me. With a glut of entertainment options strewn before movie-goers, distributors must be convinced the film will find its niche. "The buyers need to see the film with the right audience and get a sense of what the appeal could be," Kyle tells me. No one expects a little indie production like this to find a mass market. Unless, of course, it explodes like Blair Witch did.

Kyle wrote and directed Easier With Practice, a film about a young writer on a desperate road trip to promote his unpublished novel. He also hustled financing. "We were lucky, in a way, that we financed the film before the economic downturn because there would’ve been no way to raise the money we did a year and a half ago," Kyle says. "Otherwise, the biggest challenge was trying to get the industry to cooperate." Once he had financing, Kyle says he had "this fantasy in my head that things would fall into place, but there was still a lot of struggle because most (actors') agents don’t see the value of their clients doing low budget films, not to mention first time directors." The ultimate challenge? Watching your back because no one else is in charge of what ends up on the screen. Kyle explains, "Owning that responsibility can be stressful, but it’s rewarding."

The first-time filmmaker will find out just how rewarding when his film premieres this weekend in Las Vegas. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Corporate Sponsors Help Tony Awards Go Green

The Tony Awards were "greener" last night thanks to some corporate sponsors. The Broadway Green Alliance marked its first public display of the BGA’s industry-wide initiative to inspire the theater community and its patrons to adopt environmentally friendlier practices. The Tony Award’s first-ever greening effort incorporates the use of renewable certificates to offset the electricity of Radio City Music Hall, enhanced recycling efforts, and wider use of environmentally-friendlier materials.

Highlights include:

  • GDF SUEZ Energy Resources donated Green-e certified wind power Renewable Energy Certificates to support the generation of renewable energy during the week preceding the Tony Awards and for the telecast itself.
  • Lipton Tea made it possible for the 2009 Tony Awards edition of Playbill to be printed on paper with 30% post-consumer recycled content. It will also make a donation to the Broadway Green Alliance on behalf of celebrity guests who share a “green” tip at the Lipton Sustainabili-TEA Bar backstage in the Official Lipton Gift Lounge.
  • Applica Consumer Products, Inc. donated 500 Clear2Go reusable water bottles with replaceable filters for event guests.
  • Goodmart donated 2,200 energy-efficient cold cathode light bulbs for the event gift bags. As part of the BGA’s greening effort, this bulb type is now typical of those being used to light Broadway theatre roof signs and marquees.
  • In tandem with the show’s greening efforts, the Broadway Green Alliance decorated one of nine donated Audemars Piguet clocks with reused materials – everything from fabric swatches & rhinestones to Playbill covers and props. The BGA’s clock is on display in Audemars Piguet’s 57th Street flagship store.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Creating a Successful Niche Brand Indie Style

Cultural consumers look for ways to express their individuality through the brands they use. Embracing a niche brand has particular appeal. Niche brands do offer more room for personal association since they are lesser known and more open to interpretation by the consumer. Perhaps that's why many large companies are looking to capitalize on this trend through acquisitions of hip micro-brands.

A niche brand has its place on the Long Tail. But getting to scale is where the money's at. And so being acquired can be alluring. It used to be that every brand started in a niche. And I suppose it depends on the niche company's goal: sell an irresistible product (iPod) , create a committed culture (Zappos), create an incredibly useful product for a niche market (Adobe Photoshop), make piles of money (Microsoft).

Niche versus mainstream will become a key battleground in the coming years as cultural consumers flex their purchasing power. Some niche brands will remain passionately niche (Jones Soda). Some will be acquired by a larger company and struggle to maintain their essence. Still others will be created by larger companies, leaving consumers to discover who's behind these brands. The good news is that the trend favors the niche player.

The underdog's challenge is often something very practical. Take distribution for example. There's a reason why humble Entenmann's has been so successful. They show up. They've got a great fleet of truck drivers and dedicated island space in supermarkets. Woody Allen said 80% of success in life is showing up. Entenmann's has this down cold. A while back it got acquired by Weston brands.

Recently, I learned about a young filmmaker, Kyle Alvarez, who is bringing his first film to market. Great, I thought, a niche brand about to be born! The film, Easier With Practice, follows a young writer who sets out to promote his unpublished novel. I'll follow Kyle as he attempts to take his indie film to market. Surely there will be lessons we'll learn from his journey.

For anyone attempting to make something happen, build a niche brand, or contribute something meaningful to the culture, I invite you to follow along as Kyle takes his movie to market!.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Houston's RenGen Remix

In October, I spoke to a packed house in Houston about the RenGen for an event co-hosted by the Houston Arts Alliance and the Greater Houston Partnership. The message that we are poised for a renaissance must have struck a chord. Recently, the Art Museum at the University of Houston hosted their annual gala themed RenGen Remix. The event drew over 200 peeps. It raised over $100,000 for the Art Museum. And we are flattered beyond words. The main exhibition centered on art focused on rebirth and regeneration. Check out the video below.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Interns for Sale: Crispin Puts Its Peeps Up for Auction

In a tight job market, ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky took a creative spin to leverage its talent. It put 40 of its interns up for auction on eBay. On May 27 the bidding closed. All of the money goes to the interns themselves to augment their wages. Bidding started at $1. The winning bid topped out at $17,655.00.

The lucky buyer receives a creative presentation from the intern, consisting of strategies, concepts and recommended brand positionings, but not finished ads or production materials. Crispin gets credit for being clever—it’s strong suit. And interns get a little extra cash. Good

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sponsorship Monday: Hospitality Gets a Makeover

It's gala and golf season. I see so many of these events go under utilized. In this economy, the savvy sponsorship seeker needs to use every occasion as an opportunity to engage sponsors and prospects. Also, hospitality is being redefined by this diminished economy. Some of the trends you can't afford to ignore when it comes to hospitality packages are as follows:

1. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all hospitality packages. Some sponsors will want less lavish packages (sends the wrong message), while some want more bells and whistles to wring every penny's worth out of the deal. Treat the hospitality package as a key strategy for the sponsor, not just a pile of give-aways. Discuss who they need to engage via hospitality and what that audience cares about. Tailor accordingly.

2. Bottom line impact matters more than ever. Hospitality packages have to contribute to growing the sponsor's business. Do their sales department needs a special walk-through or brief workshop on how to maximize the hospitality package with their prospects and clients? Offer these spiffs. If they don't take you up on it, they'll still appreciate your asking.

3. Use hospitality events as cultivation events. Lead by example. View your VIP experiences as cultivation events. Bring together current sponsors with prospects. Let them mingle with each other and network. Deploy some of your mavens, perhaps a key volunteer, to make introductions. Plan an ice breaker event or door prizes that incorporate products and services of participating companies to raise awareness and stimulate interaction.

4. Swap old school hospitality for digital assets. Linked In, Facebook, Twitter are all key digital assets sponsors crave in their marketing programs. Offering 50 free tickets to the sponsor to throw into a desk drawer is less appealing than pushing out an offer to sponsor newbies to a free night out-- "free tickets, sponsored by Verizon." It gets the conversation going. Note: I am not talking about jumping in front of Internet users saying, "Hey, look who our sponsor is and go buy their stuff." Online marketing is so much more subtle. Find ways to bring attention to your sponsor that helps drive interest and inspires reciprocity. Make it a contest. Ask people to enter via Twitter. The most compelling 120 characters wins tickets for two. You push out the ticket giveaway via social networking. The sponsor is a hero. You get new faces in your audience. Win, win, win.