Friday, March 25, 2011

Paying for it

On Monday, the New York Times website will no longer offer all of its content free of charge. As a regular reader of the Times online and a former subscriber to the ink and paper edition (I can't get it delivered here in the hinterlands) I hope this works for them.

Professional journalism, the kind where facts are checked, stories are more than 140 characters long, and real investigative work is done to understand the underlying facts behind the issues, is hard to do for free. Yes, advertising is one source of revenue, but to date, online banners, interstitials, and other sponsorship models haven't been able to foot the bill.

Internet purists are up in arms. They insist that "on the internet, information wants to be free." That's all well and good unless providing that information is how you put food on your table. Reporters can't pay their mortgages with good will.

What it boils down for me to is this: I believe professional, edited, investigative journalism is essential to our democracy. It keeps corporations from taking advantage of workers and the environment. It prevents politicians from running roughshod over the constitution. It helps me understand whether or not Spiderman the Musical is worth a trip to New York.

So I for one, will be paying for the Times starting Monday and continue to receive the analog version of the Sheboygan Press in my mailbox each morning. Because as imperfect as the press is – and believe me, the Sheboygan Press and New York Times are far from perfect – it's better than relying on the unfiltered mass of "information" that's out there on the web.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Groupon's $30,000,000 Super Bowl Ad

Groupon is paying a heavy price for running a bad Super Bowl ad.

Data gathered from Groupon's site, where they show how much each deal costs and how many are purchased, indicates that revenue fell from $88.9MM in January to $61.7MM in February. also shows that traffic to Groupon fell from 10.7MM unique visitors in January to 9.7MM unique visitors in February.

So apparently those bad ads and the resulting publicity cost Groupon a million customers and $27.2MM in just one month. Just in case anyone at CP+B is wondering, that's not how advertising is supposed to work.

Now to be fair, there may have been other reasons sales fell: people didn't like the deals, a post christmas shopping malaise, or the massive snow falls kept people from opening their front doors. But the timing of the decline is just too coincidental to ignore.

Frankly, the thing that surprises me the most is that Groupon chose to advertise at all. Their growth without significant mass media advertising has been phenomenal. The social component that's built into the product ensures incredible word of mouth distribution of their message.

If nothing else, Groupon has taught us all a valuable lesson: television advertising is a powerful tool that  can do more harm than good when its in the hands of people who think they're smarter than everyone else.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Say something

When a company doesn't show up for a big trade show for the first time in decades that says something.

When a company doesn't respond to interview requests regarding a story about its products or practices that says something.

When a company doesn't post its blog at its expected time that says something.

When a company eschews a fancy office tower for an open space in an old warehouse district that says something.

When a company uses Helvetica for its logo instead of a fancy typeface and artistic mark that says something.

Everything you do says something about your company, even when you're not trying to saying anything. 

Your silence may be just as important as your next ad, your next press release, your next tweet.

It is impossible not to communicate. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The king is dead

It's been a bad week to be Crispin, Porter + Bogusky.

After seven years, Burger King has decided there are better options out there and notified the agency they would be taking their $300,000,000 budget elsewhere.

And in an interview with BusinessWeek, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason admitted he put too much faith in CP+B saying, "... to be edgy, informative and entertaining, we turned off the part of our brain where we should have made our own decisions."

This from an agency that just a few years ago could do no wrong.

Their work introducing Mini to the United States featured pitch perfect positioning and phenomenal use of alternative media.

They drove sales for Molson by creating interesting labels that served as conversation starters.

And they had a lot of fun introducing Hulu to the world on the Super Bowl a few years ago.

What changed?

Well, aside from the fact that Alex Bogusky is no longer with the agency, what really changed is they went from being an agency that sought be disruptive in relevant ways, to one that just seems to make noise.

Their work for Old Navy, their recent Best Buy spot featuring Justin Bieber and Ozzie Osborn, and of course the Groupon spots seem gimmicky, rather than well thought out campaigns designed to drive sales of their clients' products.

They're not a bad agency. Their work for Domino's is smart and effective. The Microsoft work actually tries to make their products seem useful. And the American Express Open campaign is hard working.

It just goes to show that being different without any relevance is as quick a way to failure as not standing out at all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Advertising works

Just ask Coca Cola.

While Pepsi has been fiddling with cause marketing efforts, pouring money into their "Refresh" project, Coca Cola has been communicating what their brand stands for and the benefits of their products mostly using traditional advertising tactics like Super Bowl advertising.

The result? Diet Coke just passed Pepsi as the #2 selling soft drink in the world, behind only regular Coca Cola.

I know advertising doesn't deserve all the credit. Coke has done a great job with their packaging, merchandising, distribution and other promotions for their lead brands. 

Pepsi's Refresh Project was launched to great fanfare and generated a lot of buzz, especially since part of the story was Pepsi eschewing the expense of Super Bowl advertising. And while it gained a lot of short term attention, the project only remained relevant to a small group of people after the launch.

Consumer brands like Coke, Pepsi, Oscar Mayer, McDonald's and others need to fight against the urge to abandon what works for the next shiny thing. People don't expect their brands to be community activists, content providers or god forbid, friends. There's been a lot of time, energy and money wasted trying to do just that.

It may not be sexy, but reminding people of what you make and why they might like it has worked for a lot of advertisers for a lot of years. 

The trick is, you can't just make advertising; you have to make good advertising.

And that is harder than it looks.