How far can you push transparency in marketing?

Playing the game and breaking the code

Joined-up service

When was the last time an advert stopped you in your tracks?

For me, it was last weekend, when I came across this poster on a bus shelter not far from my house.

Normally, I just walk past these ads without a second thought. They’re funny (that’s a given nowadays) and they’re slick, and they all end up looking pretty much the same. 

Except this one was different. We’ve got sales targets.

I gasped inwardly at the cheek of being so blatant about their motives. Forget being led by benefits, or selling the sizzle not the sausage. This was in-your-face honesty: you want a drink, and we want your money.

It’s not a relationship, it’s a one-night stand, they’re saying – let’s not pretend it’s anything more.

So it’s a bold departure. Can you just imagine how the marketing department at Coca-Cola, who produce Oasis, reacted when their ad agency presented the campaign? I’ll bet they thought long and hard before they gave it the green light.

Further down the road, and around a corner, I passed another bus shelter with another poster winking conspiratorially at me: You need a tasty refreshing Oasis. Trust me, I’m an ad.

Just a few hundred yards along, I spotted yet another: Merry Xmas. First Xmas ad of 2016. Take that, advertising. 

Telling it like it is

There’s nothing new about honesty in marketing.

Avis did it way back in the 1960s when it pushed the benefits of being the second-largest car-hire company (We try harder. When you’re not the biggest, you have to). Southwest Airlines famously has its Transfarency campaign (Low Fares. Nothing to Hide.) that helps customers avoid those ‘pesky fees’.

For 25 years, adverts for Stella Artois beer in the UK boasted that it was reassuringly expensive. And Domino’s Pizza tackled criticism head-on and ‘reinvented our pizza from the ground up’. 

I worked with one tech client who’s completely honest about their dashboards, admitting they aren’t the slickest or the sexiest out there. But they say that pretty barcharts don’t tell the whole story. If you’ve got ‘business intelligence at the speed of light’, who needs whizz-bang graphics?

So honesty in marketing can work very well when deployed intelligently. But this campaign takes things one step further.

So what’s going on here? And why is it getting people talking?

Through the looking glass

Well first, it’s genuinely funny – but it adds a twist to the usual advertising recipe. It’s gently mocking the medium, making other ads seem less genuine – and more like ad-like. It’s honest, but without being naive (they’re not doing a Ratner, which crossed the line into recklessness). 

It’s also getting people involved with their cleverly named #refreshingstuff hashtag, so people are tweeting their advertising and giving them more bang for buck.

But mostly it works because it’s different. And Oasis got there first.

If everybody starts using these self-referential ads, the spell will be broken for good. It’s a bit like an actor who steps out of character and addresses the audience. It works because it’s unexpected, and breaks the norms. If actors routinely did it, the effect would quickly wear off.

So (sun)hats off to Oasis for upending our expectations, and getting us to take a new look at an old formula. It’s a brilliant marketing move, but they know as well as anybody that it has a limited shelf life – a bit like a bottle of their Summer Fruits.

Let’s hope they hit those sales targets before autumn rolls around.

Potatoes, stir-fried Wikipedia and blending iPads

Three videos – choose one (or all three, if it’s a little quiet today).

Time for words to give way to pictures this week. Moving pictures.

First up is Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of advertising agency Ogilvy UK. If you read The Spectator, you’ll know he writes The Wiki Man, a fortnightly column on technology.

His July 2009 talk to TED in Oxford, Life Lessons Learned from an Ad Man, is fast, furious, and very, very funny. But it also has a serious side, that ties in with my last post.

With effortless ease, he moves from champagne on Eurostar to prostitutes in Turkey, from potatoes in Russia to driving in Italy, and makes his point with wit and intelligence.

And his conclusion? It’s easier to tinker with perception than to change reality.

See what you think.

(Click here if you’re reading this in email, and can’t see the embedded video.)

A tangled web

I started watching Jonathan Zittrain‘s presentation, The Web as random acts of kindness, in a dubious frame of mind.

Why? Well maybe it’s all the horror stories I’ve been reading recently about online stalking, sacking and scamming.

But Sittrain highlights the positive side of the web, and shows how it’s built on trust, altruism and selflessness.

Well, most of the time.

I particularly liked his image of beer bottles being passed from person to person as an analogy of how packet data works. And next time I’m in a Chinese restaurant, I’m definitely going to look out for stir-fried Wikipedia.

(Click here to watch Sittrain in action if you’re reading this in email and can’t see the embedded video.)

Ride the wave

Heard of the iPad? Of course you have.

What about Blendtec?

Thought not. But maybe that’s about to change.

You see, the folks at Blendtec have hit on the novel idea of surfing the wave of other, better-known companies’ brand equity.

By blending, of course. Not blending in, just blending.

Their Will it Blend? videos on Youtube are a hoot. They’ve blended glow sticks, lighters and marbles. And a Ford Fiesta.

But by far their most popular video is blending an iPad, which has gone viral. To date, it’s had over 6 million hits.

A clever idea, brilliantly done.

(Reading in an email? You know what to do.)

Prospecting? Watch out for existing clients.

Poor targeting and a missed opportunity (bad). But perfect pitch (good).

Three things caught my eye this week. But first, a digression…

Years ago, I was in a restaurant with my boss and a group of colleagues. My boss was pretty fearsome, and took no prisoners when it came to service.

Her opening line to the waitress was chillingly direct.

“I usually tip 20%,” she said. “In fact, the tip is already 20%. But here’s the catch – from now on, I’m going to deduct points for bad service. OK? Now I’d like to order.”

The poor girl stared with rapt attention, and the service never wavered for the whole of the time we were there. It was impeccable.

My boss’s secret was simple. She knew what she wanted. She asked for it. She got it.

On another occasion, at another restaurant, she requested a sauce that wasn’t on the menu. The waitress, who this time hadn’t had the 20% routine (my boss varied her tactics) said she was sorry, but that it wouldn’t be possible.

“Why not?” barked my boss.

“Because we’d have to make the sauce up,” said the girl, faltering slightly in the glare of the blue-eyed headlights.

“Oh right,” said my boss with exaggerated emphasis. “I see. I mean, it’s not as if this is a restaurant or anything, with ingredients all over the place. You’d have to make up the sauce.”

The dripping irony had its effect. And before long, that special sauce was dripping too.

1. Close (but no cigar)

I was reminded of the second restaurant episode recently. If anywhere knows about sauces, it’s a restaurant.

And if anybody knows about technology, and how to use it, it’s a technology company. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Just last week, I got a letter from Google with a little surprise in it (well more than one, but we’ll get to that bit).

Here’s what it contained:

The word ‘discover’ should have set alarm bells ringing. But it didn’t.

Inside was a credit-card-sized voucher with a unique code. I logged into my AdWords account and entered the code, relishing the thought of 75 smackers off my next bill.

Not so fast.

Because here’s what it said when I entered the code:

Too old? Well, yes, it’s years and years old. I’ve been using Google AdWords for longer than I can remember. I’m very, very happy with it.

Or at least I was.

Until they dangled £75 in front of me and took it away again. Is it really that difficult to de-duplicate a mailing campaign when you’re targeting prospects, so you exclude existing clients?

Sauce. Technology. Different consistency, same taste (bitter-sweet).

2. Don’t bank on it (the feature, that is)

Just as I’ve been using AdWords since the dawn of time, so too have I been a customer of the Royal Bank of Scotland since the good old days when banks were privately owned and collateralised debt obligations and credit-default swaps were a twinkle in the eye of a Wall St banker.

In fact, I was one of their online-banking beta customers, way back in the mid-90s. And recently, they sent me a leaflet extolling the virtues of their online service:

Can you spot the problem?

Yes, they got the headline the wrong way round. Make the most of digital banking isn’t the best thing about digital banking. It’s the time you save.

So that should be in a big, bold, brash font that shouts Benefit! followed by the more sober feature. And somebody close that gap, please.

It’s Marketing 101. Feature (banking) and benefit (time).

Which would you pick? (Thought so.)

3. U and non-U

And lastly, a company that gets it exactly right.

HTC, who make those super-sexy smartphones, realise that a phone is just a phone. What makes it special is you, as this advert shows.

Their closing line sums it up exactly: You don’t need to get a phone. You need a phone that gets you. It’s simple, direct and hits the mark.

And I want one.

[If you’re reading this in an email, click here to see the advert on Youtube]

Could this be your secret marketing weapon?

They might just help you beat the recession. Then again…

Here’s a little quiz for you.

They make 80% of discretionary purchases. They buy most new cars, and 55% of consumer electronics. They’re more loyal to brands, readily use word of mouth to spread the good news, and are not being laid off in such great numbers in the ever-deepening recession.

So who are they?

No, not Russian billionaires. Or football stars. Or UK politicians (recently caught with their snouts in the proverbial).

Maybe you’ve already guessed: it’s women.

And now that the cold winds of the downturn are sending a chill into the economy, big business has suddenly discovered them.

Girls, girls, girls

In the UK, Sheila’s Wheels has been marketing exclusively to women for many years, offering insurance on everything from cars to handbags (yes, really).

They know that statistically, women are a lower risk than men, so they can offer better premiums safe in the knowledge that they’re less likely to have to pay out.

It’s a little too pink for my liking,  but then maybe that just proves the point. (That said, I think the pink convertible might just put me in touch with my inner Priscilla.)

Now Sheila’s is being joined by mainstream brands. Frito-Lay has launched a campaign called Only in a Woman’s World to get the gals on board when it comes to chowing on down on crisps (aka chips) and popcorn with the guys as they plump up the cushions and reach for the TV remote.

And Coors, the UK’s second biggest brewer, has reportedly set up a working group called Eve, to look into marketing beer to women. In the UK, they represent only 12% of the beer drinkers, compared with 25% in the US. So Coors sees a vast untapped (sorry, couldn’t resist it) market.

US office-supplies chain OfficeMax has also joined the fray, with this advert aimed at women (click here if you can’t see the video below).

You’ll never look at box files in the same way again.

One for all, and all for one?

A word of warning,  though – and this holds true whether you’re male or female, and marketing to either sex.

Know your audience.

Yes, it’s obvious – in fact, it’s the cornerstone of all copywriting, marketing and communication. But it’s so often forgotten.

Women are not some amorphous blob, any more than men are. Generalisations are very, very dangerous, because you can easily descend into stereotypes.

Not all women like pink. Not all men like sport. Not all women like a happy ending. Not all men like getting plastered with their mates while wolfing down thick-crust pizzas.

Lots do. But lots don’t.

And consider this: marketing to one segment can be a zero-sum game. Porsche discovered this when they tried to market SUVs to women. Though they saw an initial rise in sales, the numbers soon headed south as men abandoned what they thought of as a female car.

Psychologists call this ‘identity threat’, and it’s something we’re all prone to, whether we admit it or not.

So think long and hard before you market to women only. Or men only. But make sure you choose the right type of women. Or men. The ones you want to sell to, and who’ll respond to your message.

And go easy on the pink. (Unless it’s a hot pink convertible, in which case, bring it on.)

Find out more

Four things I’ve learned

…from Starbucks, Eurostar, Tesco and

marketing promises

Four things happened to me this week.

OK, more than four things, but since you haven’t got all day, I’ll give you the short version.

Extra strong – with wings

First, I hung out at Starbucks, which is better than any serviced office I’ve ever seen.  You can stretch one cup out all afternoon, as you huddle over your laptop.

But this time, I decided to leave my comfort zone. No, not my favourite armchair by the window. But my coffee.

You see, I normally opt for a grande, skinny, decaf, sugar-free hazelnut, extra-hot latte – enough to give any barista RSI as they scramble to tick all the boxes.

But this time, I decided to change. A regular coffee seemed an appropriate departure, so I consulted the board. Americano, I thought. That’ll do the trick.

But wait…what about Freshly Brewed Coffee? It was much cheaper, and that was enough to tip the balance.

So that’s what I ordered. And instantly regretted it.

Americano is basically a diluted espresso, made on the spot from achingly fresh coffee beans. Whereas Freshly Brewed Coffee is, well, not really fresh.

The barista pivoted round, flipped the tap on a big silver urn, and filled the cup with tired old dregs.

So that would be Freshly Stewed Coffee.

Lesson 1: don’t stretch language beyond its limits.

Next stop Paris

From there, where else could the week go? Upwards was the only way, and yesterday, Eurostar put a smile on my face.

I live in Cambridge, and every week, like it or not, the local freesheet newspaper lands on my mat. Usually, it goes straight in to the recycle bin.

But not this time.

Paris – An all hours guide, the cover (which wasn’t really the cover, but a advert wrap) said. Pull out. Fold up. Pocket it.

The inside is crammed full of useful listings – places to eat, relax, and boogie on down. The back has a handy map. There are even Cambridge-Paris train times (via King’s Cross/St Pancras).

And coolest of all, a handy origami-style diagram showing you how to fold it all into a pocket map.

Brilliant. Just brilliant. Why?

It’s targeted, it’s personal and it’s useful. Even if I don’t want to go to Paris tomorrow, I’ll keep it for when I do.

And so Eurostar has achieved the Holy Grail – an advert I’ll never throw away.

Lesson 2: think smart, think targeted, think like a reader.

Bag for life (not)

Tesco delivered my internet shopping this week, all  neatly packed in carrier bags. Re-use this carrier bag and collect Green Clubcard Points, each bag cried out at me.

If only I could.

At least half of the bags had the handles knotted – double-knotted. And they’d been lifted into the crate at the store, then out of the crate on to my doorstep, then again to my kitchen.

Each time the knot got a little tighter. In the end, the only way I could open them was with scissors.

You see the green problem.

When I pointed it out to Tesco customer service, they said they’d put a note on my account.

But what about all the other shopping packed at that store? In fact, at every store countrywide? How many bags were being wasted, I wondered.  Surely they could feed it back to somebody who could change things?

Silence. Then they said they’d put a note on my account.

So I dropped it. Some battles you can’t win.

Lesson 3: make sure everybody in your company shares your values.

Game over

This week I ordered a DVD – La Vie en Rose (it’s known as La Môme in France).

It’s the fourth French film I’ve ordered in as many weeks, so have a pretty good idea of my tastes. Perfect for marketing purposes.

Or so you’d think.

On the invoice that came with the DVD, they’d conveniently printed a list of other bestselling and upcoming titles.

Clever. But also not so clever.

For their titles included Knocked Up: Extended and Unprotected Special Edition, along with Hellboy and Superbad. Oh, and Death Note: Limited Edition.

It would have been a simple bit of database programming to pull out the upcoming French titles.

Lesson 4:  try selling what your customers are buying. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.