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The ad campaign is dead. Long live the ad campaign!

In an era where uncertainty is the only certainty, the state of the ad campaign is in limbo – read on to see if it is dead or revitalized.

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coca cola

ad campaign

The modern ad campaign is changing

Once every few seconds, a blogger tackles the topic that “changes in how we consume media have changed everything and the only thing constant in media is how things keep changing.” It’s all true, and despite being masters of the obvious, we notice this shift in communications even more acutely when a large scale tragedy strikes.

Each time there’s a fast-evolving news story, we see how we distribute, consume, and analyze media has changed. In the most recent instance, the concept of “breaking news” seems to be forever altered: first media breaks the news, then we find out the news is actually quite broken and sort out what information was actually correct by crowd sourcing.

Hardly an apology comes from the news source who was “acting on the best information they had at the time which consisted rantings by a man who has animated conversations with a fire hydrant.” The odd thing about this practice is that the consumer doesn’t seem to mind this fluidity of information. “That guy is guilty! Hang him!” “Oh wait, wrong guy.” “That’s the one, get him!”

The only certain thing is uncertainty

The only thing certain these days is uncertainty, which for you the reader now includes wondering when in the world I’ll make my point. While uncertainty in news is the norm, marketers have become addicted to a sure thing, an ideology at odds with what any somewhat with-it marketing practitioner would call “best practices.”

Ever since someone discovered that the Internet could facilitate a two-way conversation between consumers that went beyond “SALE!” “REALLY? WHERE?” – marketers have filled their conference keynotes and Proprietary 720 Degree BrandWheel x2™ Methodologies with the notion that we need to be in “constant beta” and “change on the fly.”

No longer should we as brands be getting a helicopter ride to the top of a mountain and using a gigantic bullhorn to shout our carefully-crafted and focus-grouped-to-death message at the top of our lungs. No, we should be having  real talk, off the cuff, transparent, no-holds-barred, “this is how we really make the sausage” conversations with the walking dollar signs we call our customers.

On top of that, we should let our consumer do our marketing for us: by having the aforementioned two-way conversations, we create relationships. With relationships we create trusted brand partners, and with trusted brand partners we create people with nothing better to do with their time than write our Doritos commercials for us!

Bring in the Yankees’ Bleacher Creatures

Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, both major and tiny marketers alike have taken more of a “you first” approach to this form of marketing. Professional speakers continue to fill their Social Marketer Month conference agendas with topics about letting the consumer have control. But to a CMO, that can be like letting the Bleacher Creatures manage the New York Yankees.

Sure, there will be lots of buzz around the move, but it could also be a complicated disaster. Just ask Skittles and Chevy Tahoe if they want to try crowdsourcing again.

The idea of an advertising campaign is over.

Spending months of “creative development time” consisting of Foosball tournaments, heavy drinking and womanizing, then focus grouping the results into something completely indecipherable and “flighting” a major media effort just isn’t going to work in our fast-moving media-frenzied culture. Until there’s a major marketer willing to take a giant step forward and declare the campaign dead and the consumer in control, we’re just going to have this same conversation over and over again and WAIT! BREAKING NEWS: PEPSI DECIDES TO DECLARE THE CAMPAIGN DEAD!

Whoops. My sources now tell me it’s actually Coca-Cola, and that they’re doing a 100% digital effort with no television commercials at all.

Via a series of URLs, “snackable content” around the theme “The Ahh Effect” will be created and shared by Coke agency Wieden + Kennedy, and crowdsourced by teenagers themselves. Content will be added and removed on a “trial and error” basis (sound familiar?) and of course the whole thing is optimized for mobile, because who has time to sit at a computer these days?

Will marketers follow suit?

Having worked with Coke in the past, I know the company has always been innovative in its approach – this takes it one step further. A few years ago Coke Zero was launched with an experiential campaign whose creative was vetted by Coke Zero fans before launch via a private community. This effort takes the two-way conversation to a whole new level.

Will other marketers finally take the hint and follow suit? Perhaps, after we collectively write 200 blogs and 15 keynote speeches about “How your brand can kill its campaign and be more like Coke.”

Marc Lefton is a creative director and tech entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. He's a partner in Digikea Digital based in NYC and Gainesville, Florida.

Business Marketing

Use the ‘Blemish Effect’ to skyrocket your sales

(MARKETING) The Blemish Effect dictates that small, adjacent flaws in a product can make it that much more interesting—is perfection out?

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blemish effect

Presenting a product or service in its most immaculate, polished state has been the strategy for virtually all organizations, and overselling items with known flaws is a practice as old as time. According to marketing researchers, however, this approach may not be the only way to achieve optimal results due to something known as the “Blemish Effect.”

The Blemish Effect isn’t quite the inverse of the perfectionist product pitch; rather, it builds on the theory that small problems with a product or service can actually throw into relief its good qualities. For example, a small scratch on the back of an otherwise pristine iPhone might draw one’s eye to the glossy finish, while an objectively perfect housing might not be appreciated in the same way.

The same goes for mildly bad press or a customer’s pros and cons list. If someone has absolutely no complaints or desires for whatever you’re marketing, the end result can look flat and lacking in nuance. Having the slightest bit of longing associated with an aspect (or lack thereof) of your business means that you have room to grow, which can be tantalizing for the eager consumer.

A Stanford study indicates that small doses of mildly negative information may actually strengthen a consumer’s positive impression of a product or service. Interesting.

Another beneficial aspect of the Blemish Effect is that it helps consumers focus their negativity. “Too good to be true” often means exactly that, and we’re eager to criticize where possible. If your product or service has a noticeable flaw which doesn’t harm the item’s use, your audience might settle for lamenting the minor flaw and favoring the rest of the product rather than looking for problems which don’t exist.

This concept also applies to expectation management. Absent an obvious blemish, it can be all to easy for consumers to envision your product or service on an unattainable level.

When they’re invariably disappointed that their unrealistic expectations weren’t fulfilled, your reputation might take a hit, or consumers might lose interest after the initial wave.

The takeaway is that consumers trust transparency, so in describing your offering, tossing in a negative boosts the perception that you’re being honest and transparent, so a graphic artist could note that while their skills are superior and their pricing reasonable, they take their time with intricate projects. The time expectation is a potentially negative aspect of their service, but expressing anything negative improves sales as it builds trust.

It should be noted that the Blemish Effect applies to minor impairments in cosmetic or adjacent qualities, not in the product or service itself. Delivering an item which is inherently flawed won’t make anyone happy.

In an age where less truly is more, the Blemish Effect stands to dictate a new wave of honesty in marketing.

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Business Marketing

Google Chrome will no longer allow premium extensions

(MARKETING) In banning extension payments through their own platform, Google addresses a compelling, if self-created, issue on Chrome.

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Google Chrome open on a laptop on a organized desk.

Google has cracked down on various practices over the past couple of years, but their most recent target—the Google Chrome extensions store—has a few folks scratching their heads.
Over the span of the next few months, Google will phase out paid extensions completely, thus ending a bizarre and relatively negligible corner of internet economy.

This decision comes on the heels of a “temporary” ban on the publication of new premium extensions back in March. According to Engadget, all aspects of paid extension use—including free trials and in-app purchases—will be gone come February 2021.

To be clear, Google’s decision won’t prohibit extension developers from charging customers to use their products; instead, extension developers will be required to find alternative methods of requesting payment. We’ve seen this model work on a donation basis with extensions like AdBlock. But shifting to something similar on a comprehensive scale will be something else entirely.

Interestingly, Google’s angle appears to be in increasing user safety. The Verge reports that their initial suspension of paid extensions was put into place as a response to products that included “fraudulent transactions”, and Google’s subsequent responses since then have comprised more user-facing actions such as removing extensions published by different parties that accomplish replica tasks.

Review manipulation, use of hefty notifications as a part of an extension’s operation, and generally spammy techniques were also eyeballed by Google as problem points in their ongoing suspension leading up to the ban.

In banning extension payments through their own platform, Google addresses a compelling, if self-created, issue. The extension store was a relatively free market in a sense—something that, given the number of parameters being enforced as of now, is less true for the time being.

Similarly, one can only wonder about which avenues vendors will choose when seeking payment for their services in the future. It’s entirely possible that, after Google Chrome shuts down payments in February, the paid section of the extension market will crumble into oblivion, the side effects of which we can’t necessarily picture.

For now, it’s probably best to hold off on buying any premium extensions; after all, there’s at least a fighting chance that they’ll all be free come February—if we make it that far.

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Business Marketing

Bite-sized retail: Macy’s plans to move out of malls

(BUSINESS MARKETING) While Macy’s shares have recently climbed, the department store chain is making a change in regards to big retail shopping malls.

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Macy's retail storefront, which may look different as they scale to smaller stores.

I was recently listening to a podcast on Barstool Sports, and was surprised to hear that their presenting sponsor was Macy’s. This struck me as odd considering the demographic for the show is women in their twenties to thirties, and Macy’s typically doesn’t cater to that crowd. Furthermore, department retail stores are becoming a bit antiquated as is.

The sponsorship made more sense once I learned that Macy’s is restructuring their operation, and now allowing their brand to go the way of the ghost. They feel that while malls will remain in operation, only the best (AKA the malls with the most foot traffic) will stand the test of changes in the shopping experience.

As we’ve seen a gigantic rise this year in online shopping, stores like Macy’s and JC Penney are working hard to keep themselves afloat. There is so much changing in brick and mortar retail that major shifts need to be made.

So, what is Macy’s proposing to do?

The upscale department store chain is going to be testing smaller stores in locations outside of major shopping malls. Bloomingdale’s stores will be doing the same. “We continue to believe that the best malls in the country will thrive,” CEO Jeff Gennette told CNBC analysts. “However, we also know that Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s have high potential [off]-mall and in smaller formats.”

While the pandemic assuredly plays a role in this, the need for change came even before the hit in March. Macy’s had announced in February their plans to close 125 stores in the next three years. This is in conjunction with Macy’s expansion of Macy’s Backstage, which offers more affordable options.

Gennette also stated that while those original plans are still in place, Macy’s has been closely monitoring the competition in the event that they need to adjust the store closure timeline. At the end of the second quarter, Macy’s had 771 stores, including Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury.

Last week, Macy’s shares climbed 3 percent, after the retailer reported a more narrow loss than originally expected, along with stronger sales due to an uptick in their online business. So they’re already doing well in that regard. But will smaller stores be the change they need to survive?

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