Marketing 101 – Don’t ignore 40M customers.

Like it or not, marketing to minority groups is essential. It’s a touchy subject because it involves acknowledging that we aren’t all the same and we don’t all have the same interests. But that’s true of any group, even the various demographics of white consumers. Perhaps it’s just easier not to go there and risk offending someone, but according to a recent Ad Age report, marketers are increasingly shunning the 40 million-strong African-American market and missing out on more than $900 billion in potential revenue.

Marketers argue that targeting African-Americans doesn’t add value or that they speak English, but those are both poor arguments. If President Barack Obama’s historic presidential campaign and election wasn’t enough to convince marketers that African-Americans will respond en masse to messages that are designed to resonate with them, I don’t know what will. McDonald’s is one company that hasn’t ignored Black consumers. According to Carol Sagers, marketing director for McDonald’s USA:

“Do you believe one size fits all? Intuitively, you don’t. African-Americans have nuances in lifestyle and nuances in language and culture that should be used to leverage communication.”

But like white consumers, there are dozens of unique demographics within the African-American market. It will be interesting to see which companies are able to capitalize on the buying potential of Black consumers by effectively identifying and communicating with those niche groups. (Hint: It takes more than a photo featuring Black faces and a reference to rap music or Martin Luther King.)

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Movies = $$$

Marketing shorts are a powerful medium, and not just for companies looking to market a product to consumers. Two cases in point:

  • The committee pushing to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago presented about 20 short films to the International Olympic Committee Evaluation Commission to promote the city. They won’t be released to the public because they don’t want officials in competing cities to get a look at them, but The Chicago Sun-Times said they were “slickly executed, hugely upbeat films” that feature the talents of Chicago’s top film and ad agencies. According to the paper, which got a sneak peek:

“We found the work to be of a very high quality. … Almost all of the films celebrating everything from the city’s passionate sports fans to our wealth of culture were made during one of our most miserable winters, which made the accomplishment all the more impressive.”

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  • Consumers can actually make a profit from marketing films by renting out their houses, yards and other property.  Tracey Taylor encouraged people to get in on the action in Saturday’s San Francisco Chronicle, noting that a friend pocketed $2,000 a day for renting out her home. It’s a great way to make a little extra cash, particularly with the nation’s current economic woes, and Taylor said there are dozens of opportunities to get in on the action with all the movies, commercials, marketing shorts and other films shot in the San Francisco area. She said:

“Having your home used for location shoots can also bring in a tidy amount of cash – as long as you’re willing to tolerate the invasion and general upheaval that goes along with it.”

$10,000 — the fee two California companies promise per day for use of a home, Taylor said — sounds like more than enough to make up for the inconvenience to me!

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$5 for a TV show? Sign me up!

I checked out a couple interesting marketing shorts this week — for Lux, Honda, American Express and others — and I kept thinking about product placement. It’s really the most basic form of film marketing  and often the most controversial. I think that’s because it’s sneaky, and unlike the marketing shorts, the companies aren’t up front about the fact that they’re trying to sell you something. For that reason, I’ve never been a fan of product placement. After watching The Truman Show and sketch comedy skits that poke fun at product placement, I thought most other people frowned on the practice, too, but it seems I may be wrong.

Why, you ask? It seems fans of the TV show “Chuck” are pushing other fans to head to Subway — a chain featured in a recent episode — for a sandwich before next week’s show in hopes of keeping it on the air. According to the LA Times:

“So much for product placement turning off viewers. ‘It shows a real sophistication on the part of the viewer,’ [show co-creator Josh] Schwartz said.”

Agreed. At the very least, it shows that customers are well aware of product placement on their favorite TV shows, and not just on American Idol, where you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind to miss it. The fact that fans are embracing it is promising for marketers, and it may be an indication that customers are warming up to more invasive advertising messages. Food for thought…kind of like a $5 footlong.

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Where’s the beef?

Without question, mobile communication has massive marketing potential. My big beef with mobile marketing, however, is its potential to become just another medium for SPAM, even with opt-in messages (since users often have no control over their frequency).

But according to an article in PC World, two U.S. senators are trying to alleviate my fears with the m-SPAM Act, which would give the FCC and the FTC more authority to fight cell phone SPAM and prevent companies from texting customers listed on a national do-not-call list. According to Olympia Snowe, a Republican Senator from Maine:

“Mobile spam invades both a consumer’s cell phone and monthly bill. There is also increasing concern that mobile spam will become more than just an annoyance — the viruses and malicious spyware that are often attached to traditional spam will most likely be more prevalent on wireless devices through m-spam.”

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While it’s nice to see that legislators recognize the problems associated with cell phone SPAM, I’m not sure a do-not-call list is the solution. For one, the federal government’s first do-not-call list to stop telemarketers didn’t seem to work. (I still get calls, as do many people I know that are listed.) And second, rather than trying to stop mobile marketing all together, how about coming up with a creative solution that requires marketers to be responsible? If senators are forward-thinking enough to realize that mobile SPAM could be problematic, I would think they could also see that mobile marketing could aid the economy by boosting business if it’s done responsibly. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the bill and important for marketers to keep an eye on it.

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If only there were a good restaurant around here…

In February, USA Today obtained — and confirmed the authenticity of — a 2008 presentation by Google ad execs that indicates the company’s marketing strategy is going mobile. Not exactly a shocker, but I was pleased to see that Google is anticipating the needs of consumers on the go. Google’s mobile ads will feature contextual targeting and image ads — allowing users to search by image or keyword — to generate information within a specific city or ZIP code. According to USA Today:

What do people want from mobile search? In Google’s view, consumers want “exact information,” as they do on the desktop. “The key difference with mobile is that they immediately act on it.”

Agreed!I don’t have a GPS device or a fancy-schmancy smartphone, but the ability to search for, say, a cool restaurant or bar when I make a pit stop on a long road trip might be enough to tempt me to buy one.

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Another useful situation: My boyfriend and I went to New York City last year for an affordable four-day weekend getaway. Since it was a last-minute thing, we didn’t really plan where we wanted to go, aside from the standard touristy stuff (i.e. Empire State Building, Central Park, Ground Zero, Statue of Liberty). But once we got there, it would have been useful to look for good, cheap bars and restaurants that were near us. (A word to the wise, by the way — Don’t go to New York City for a cheap vacation!)

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Maybe I have a bad attitude…

As I was exploring privacy issues associated with data mining and direct marketing this week, I discovered that the FTC has specific guidelines for online advertisers that require them to provide information about the data they collect and what purpose it’s used for. Now mind you, I assumed there were federal guidelines for online advertising content, but I didn’t realize it had to be that detailed. Probably because it’s buried in  the privacy policy at most Web sites — a link to which is provided in tiny, little letters at the bottom of most Web pages.

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In an effort to learn more about the FTC privacy rules, I checked out their Web site and stumbled across the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which seemed particularly relevant since this past week’s discussion was about the ethics of marketing to children. According to the policy:

“Before collecting, using or disclosing personal information from a child, an operator must obtain verifiable parental consent from the child’s parent. This means an operator must make reasonable efforts (taking into consideration available technology) to ensure that before personal information is collected from a child, a parent of the child receives notice of the operator’s information practices and consents to those practices.”

After checking out several Web sites for kids this week, I find it hard to believe that most Web sites actually obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from a child. Granted, there were plenty of disclaimers and whatnot for parents on the various sites, but the idea that 1) a marketer would actually ask for the information necessary to contact a child’s parents,  2) a child would actually provide that information, and 3) a parent would actually respond just seems too far-fetched for me.

Just to see, I picked out a random site — Discovery Kids — to find out how they obtain parental consent. The rules are there, but buried in the privacy policy, as expected. They say:

“From time to time, we may request limited personally identifiable information from kids in order to offer a service, a promotion or other activity to the kids. In such an instance, we will request that the child provide his or her email address, as well as the email address of his or her parent or legal guardian (“parent”). Discovery will use that email address to send the parent an email letting him or her know about the child’s contact. The email will include details on how the parent may (i) provide Discovery with consent; (ii) prohibit Discovery from any further contact with the child; or (iii) delete the child’s personally identifiable information. Discovery will not collect more information than is reasonably necessary for the child to participate in the activity at issue.”

The policy went on to indicate that Discovery would seek parental permission if a child wanted to enter a sweepstakes or other promotional contest, or if they wanted to sign up for a newsletter. I tried to find a way to sign up for either one of those, but I had no luck. Perhaps that’s how Discovery avoids seeking parental permission. I don’t know. I’m still skeptical that this actually works, but I do give Discovery credit for notifying kids they are about to enter a section of the Web site that includes messages from advertisers when they click on the “Fun & Games” tab, though I doubt most kids care.

And the FTC does apparently enforce the COPPA rules. I found a civil complaint at the FTC Web site filed against The Ohio Art Company — which operates Etch-A-Sketch.com — for failure to publish its data collection policy or seek parental consent to collect information from kids. So maybe I’m too cynical.

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Whatever happened to the good ol’ days?

As a child, my favorite thing about breakfast cereal was earning prizes. I collected box tops and UPC codes religiously in hopes of earning poorly-made T-shirts featuring Toucan Sam and useless toys that were probably worth about $1.

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That said, apparently I’m not alone. As I was perusing the Internet for research about marketing to kids online,  I stumbled across the results of a 2006 study conducted by the University of Notre Dame. It indicated that almost 40 percent of food companies’ Web sites employed the same marketing strategy as my Froot Loops boxes, urging kids to buy food so they can rack up points redeemable for brand merchandise and other goodies. The basic concept isn’t surprising. (It worked on me.) But I was surprised to learn that marketers are employing that strategy online.

In many cases, the study found that students are racking up points to gain access to games and other online content. About 73 percent of the 4,000 unique Web pages examined in the study included “advergames,” online contests in which the food company’s products or brand characters were featured. I guess it’s a smart strategy. (A 2005 study mentioned in Brandweek indicated that 61 percent of 4,000 kids up to age 15 play video games every day.)  But it raises some serious ethical concerns, particularly with the rising childhood obesity rates in the U.S. (The CDC has a great color-changing map that shows how dramatically obesity rates increased from 1985 to 2007.) A former fat kid myself, I find this really disconcerting. This strategy not only urges kids to buy more food; it also encourages them to be sedentary!

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The Notre Dame study provided no context or justification as to why this strategy is being employed and I couldn’t find additional research on the subject, but I suppose the argument from some companies might be that they’re being up-front about the nutritional content in their products and/or they’re providing educational material. The study found that “about half of the sites provided nutritional information such as that found on product labels, and 44 percent included a nutritional claim such as ‘good source of vitamins and minerals,'” but I doubt most kids know how or care to read nutrition info. About 35 percent of the sites provided educational info about dinosaurs, astronomy, geography and other subjects, but that’s not really impressive, either, since they’ll eventually learn that stuff in school anyway. I really wish someone had urged me not to eat so much sugar-coated cereal when I was a kid — it would have saved me a lot of time and money at the gym later — and I hope somebody wises up and spreads that message to these kids, too.

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