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Widespread Use Of Ad Blockers May Bring Something Worse Than Ads To Your Screen

evil jack in the box

“Browsing the web without ads is actually kind of nice,” wrote Advertising Age June 19, 2006. “No popups stealing your screen. No autoplaying video ads making the page load as slowly as if it were being dialed up through America Online circa 1999.” People who own and use computers agree – by the tens of millions. “Readers deplore online ads,” notes the Columbia Journalism Review, “particularly the personalized ones that follow them from site to site” (known as retargeting or remarketing). So it’s no wonder that almost half of US internet users – 47 percent, to be specific – now use ad-blocking software. An even greater proportion of Millennials do; 55 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds, according to an Oxford University Reuters Institute survey of more than 20,000 online news consumers in 12 countries including the US. As one focus group participant put it, “Online ads are obtrusive, obnoxious, annoying.”

Just one ad blocker, AdBlock Plus, claims more than 400 million installations on people’s browsers and “close to 50 to 60 million active users,” according to Ben Williams, communications and operations director of Eyeo, its manufacturer. Since 2013, he added, AdBlock Plus has averaged 2.3 million downloads a week.

UC Browser, which has 500 million users in India and China, incorporates ad blocking in its mobile software. Maxthon, another mobile browser with 120 million users, partnered with AdBlock Plus to make its mobile browsing platform ad-free. That’s 620 million ad-blocking smartphone users, a number that could swell exponentially, as more and more consumers use iPhones with iOS9 and later operating systems, which will allow ad-blocking extensions on the mobile version of Safari.

Potentially, that’s a very costly problem for website publishers that sell online advertising. Megan McArdle at Bloomberg View does the math: “[L]et’s say you started with 100 million page views from 1 million readers – but 50 percent of them have ad blocking software. What happens if a further 10 percent of the readership adopts an ad blocker?…Well, you used to be selling ads on 50 million pages; now that’s been knocked down to 40 million. In other words, you just lost 20 percent of your revenue. How much do you need to grow your pages just to get that revenue back? You now need 125 million page views, or 25 percent growth in either your readership or the numbers of pages each visitor views each year. As ad-blocking software comes to dominate the market, the companies that rely on display advertising will have to run faster and faster just to stay in place.”

Google, the world’s biggest digital ad seller, lost more than 10 percent of  its revenue – $6.6 billion out of a $59.1 billion gross – to ad blocking in 2005. Others did even worse; as Mike Germano, chief digital officer of Vice, put it crudely but succinctly, “I love my audience, but f–k you, ad blockers — 20% of my revenue is gone.”

While ad blocking may be interactive media’s costliest problem, it’s not their most urgent one. “Viewability is [problem] number one,” says David Morris, who chairs the Interactive Advertising Bureau and is CBS Interactive’s chief revenue officer. “I would say preventing fraudulent traffic on your sites is number two,” he added. “And then after that in terms of issues, I would say ad blocking is going to come up pretty fast.” So fast, in fact, that large digital media, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, CBS Interactive, Forbes and the (UK) Daily Mail are already working with advertising technology firms to devise solutions. Unfortunately for consumers, these solutions seem to fall into five categories: Bribery, Sabotage, Deception, Censorship, and Extortion.

Bribery – One dirty little secret about AdBlock Plus is that it maintains a kind of “white list” – an “acceptable ads” filter that lets selected advertising content through by default. What makes ads “acceptable”? Apparently, a sizable chunk of cash to AdBlock Plus. “Companies including Google, Amazon and Microsoft have paid AdBlock Plus to not block ads on their sites,” Ad Age reports. Of course, one problem with paying this kind of protection money is there’s no way to guarantee it won’t arbitrarily go up; “Nice little revenue stream you got there. Be a shame if something happened to it.”

“I have concerns about it from a policy perspective,” says Scott Cunningham, the IAB’s svp-technology and general manager of its Technology Lab, “whether the utilities and policies are in the spirit of net neutrality. The model makes me uncomfortable.”

Sabotage –  Some digital advertising media would rather fight ad blockers than join them. One way they do this is to pay companies like PageFair to bypass consumers’ ad-blocking software. Others refuse to support ad blockers on their operating systems. Android phone users, for example, can’t download or install any ad-blocking apps; they’re all blocked from Google Play. Hulu goes even further; it detects adblocking software and, even on its premium, no-ads, site, won’t let you watch a movie unless you first disable it.

Deception – More and more advertisers are resorting to so-called native advertising, a euphemism for deceptively sneaky advertorials – ads that mimic a website’s graphics and writing style so as to get around what Ad Age calls “‘banner blindness,’ or people’s ability to immediately recognize and ignore standard display ad formats.” While ad blockers can block paid ads that drive traffic to these advertising Trojan horses, they can’t block the branded content itself. Native advertising will grow by more than a third – 34 percent – this year, totaling $3.4 billion worth in the US alone, according to eMarketer estimated in 2006. “But native adds [sic] blur the line between ethical journalism,” Ad Age points out. “Are publishers choosing companies that organically fit within their brand model or are the companies become [sic] too money hungry?”

Censorship and Extortion – This is sort of like fighting fire with fire; if you block websites’ ads, they’ll block content. The tactic ranges anywhere from completely closing a website to consumers who use ad blockers to severely limiting free content, as CBS.com started doing last year, to charging extra for ad-free versions of a site, as Spotify and Pandora have already done. The former can very well create an adversarial relationship between a publisher and parts of its audience, while the latter won’t really pay off unless you have tons of content that millions of people simply can’t live without.

There’s another alternative, which comes from PageFair, the company whose software lets advertisers get around ad-blockers: “Avoid using intrusive advertisements that feature distracting animations and sounds. PageFair says this is the No. 1 reason users download ad blocking extensions, and doing so only encourages more users to follow suit.” Hey, it’s so crazy, it just might work.

Are You Ready For A Pepsi Generation Of Beverage Snobs?

beer snob

In the beginning, there were the wine snobs. Then came the craft beer snobs. Now,  Pepsico is out to create a whole new generation of snobs to look down their noses at us common folk – soda snobs. “PepsiCo today [June 4] confirmed that it will soon launch a new line of craft sodas called ‘Stubborn Soda,’ that will be sold at fountains at select foodservice accounts,” Advertising Age reported. This isn’t Pepsi’s first venture into the new and pretentious craft soda category. Late last year, the soda maker launched Caleb’s Kola, followed by Mountain Dew Dewshine this March. Even though “there is no consensus, at least yet, as to exactly what ‘craft’ means in the [soda] world,” wrote Beverage Digest, sweetening with sugar and packaging in glass bottles “seem to be common.” Judging from the descriptive language, the formulation and the packaging, though, “common” is the last thing Pepsi wants its craft sodas to be.

Caleb’s Kola, for example, is made from cane sugar (diet sodas being so frightfully bourgeois, don’t you know), African kola nuts, spices, and a soupçon of citrus. Dewshine, a portmanteau name combining parts of Mountain Dew and moonshine, both names for dirt-poor, hillbilly liquor, is positioned as a definitely high-hat “whisky mix” that tastes like 7Up.  Unlike plebeian sodas, it’s clear rather than colored, contains a mere 42 grams of sugar per 12 ounces – a whole four grams less than in more commonplace brands – eschews orange juice as an ingredient, and comes in clear 12-ounce glass bottles or a “limited edition” of 25-ounce jugs.

For more discerning tastes than the rabble’s, Stubborn Soda’s flavors will include black cherry with tarragon, lemon berry acai, agave vanilla cream, and orange hibiscus. It will be sweetened with not just ordinary table sugar, but “fair trade certified cane sugar,” according to PepsiCo. And because glass bottles, or even limited edition imitation hillbilly moonshine jugs are oh, so declassé, Stubborn will be available only from custom-designed fountain machines that feature a “tap-like pouring ritual.” Pepsi didn’t say whether this ritual would be marred by pouring their precious liquid from the machines into proletarian paper cups or whether more befitting vessels, such as long-stemmed crystal goblets, would be available. “[W]e’re continuing to explore the craft space with Stubborn Soda and its unique, contemporary flavor profiles,” a Pepsico spokeswoman explained. “Introducing it on fountain with an engaging piece of innovative equipment offers consumers a new take on the traditional soft-drink experience while also creating value for customers.”

In doing so, however, Pepsi may be following a flawed marketing model – at the very least, one that’s flawed for big brands. It’s true that craft beverages have been very successful in the beer industry; in 2013, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights figures, all craft beers combined outsold Budweiser by 100,000 barrels. But that was a very large bunch of very small brewers. In its love/hate relationship with  craft beers, Budweiser has swung between trying to imitate them to denouncing “their pumpkin peach ale” as being brewed for dissecting rather than drinking; running commercials purporting to show that Brooklyn hipsters couldn’t tell the difference between craft beers and Bud; and showing off its factory and ingredients. But all of Budweiser’s efforts to fight craft beers and join them have failed to break a 32-year-long streak of shrinking sales.

So mass-producing craft-like sodas, giving them exotic-sounding ingredients and names that don’t sound like national brands, and creating “tap-like pouring rituals” may not be enough to fool soda snobs into drinking, much less dissecting, Pepsi products. Just as it didn’t fool beer snobs into drinking Budweiser.

Quick, What’s The Worst Possible Brand Name In The World?

hitler ice cream 1

What’s the absolutely worst, most repulsive brand name you could possibly think of? Well, an ice cream cone manufacturer named M. V. F. Products in India already thought of it. “Indian ice cream lovers are putting their favorite treat in a cone named after Adolf Hitler,” the Times of Israel reported May 29, 2005. “The boxes of Hitler ice cream cones bear the unsmiling image of the Nazi leader dressed in a military uniform. The cones are available throughout India”. Some of the Hitler Ice Cream Cone boxes feature a realistic illustration of Adolf in his brown Nazi uniform glaring at the brand’s logotype. Others, bizarrely, show him in a cartoony illustration sporting a dinner jacket and red bowtie, tipping a striped, Uncle Sam-type top hat with a swastika on the crown. “Even for the most dedicated of ice cream lovers this sweet treat may prove a little hard to swallow,” The Daily Mail wrote.

The UK newspaper goes on to offer ignorance as a possible excuse. “A lack of Holocaust education in India means that people on the sub-continent know little about the Nazi leader,” they explained. But India’s own history shows how lame an excuse that is.

Mohandas Ghandi, the George Washington of India, certainly knew about and publicly commented on the Holocaust. “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time,” he said. “But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany…As it is they succumbed anyway.”

The Hitler Ice Cream Cone brand name has provoked howls of outrage – but not from India. The German newspaper Bild, for example, called the brand “a macabre publicity stunt.” Many Twitter users called it “tasteless!” But according to one Berliner, it goes beyond tastelessness. “There is taste and there is tastelessness,” he said. “The people of India should be made aware of the terrible crimes committed by him [Hitler].”

Tasteless or worse as it is, the Hitler brand name is, for some reason, popular throughout India. In 2012, after hundreds of complaints from Jews and non-Jews alike, municipal government officials in the Indian state of Gujarat forced a men’s clothing store named Hitler to take down its sign, which featured a cute little swastika as the dot over the “i”.

And in 2011, India’s Zee TV introduced a daily network soap opera called “Hitler Didi” that ran not only nationally but also on the network’s affiliates in other countries, including the US. Among those complaining about the title was the Anti-Defamation League, which wrote urging the production company’s CEO, chairman and managing editor to “preserve the name ‘Hitler’ as a villain of incomparable evil and not trivialize his legacy or the Holocaust with a serial TV title.”

The show’s title translates from the Hindi as “Aunt Hitler.” That was the nickname of its lead character, who was “a young woman known in her locality as a strict disciplinarian who takes a no-nonsense attitude with her family.” Well, at least she didn’t send the kids to the gas chamber for being hyper.

Why This Summer’s A Good Time To Get Sick In Phoenix Or Austin

What you have to go through just to see a doctor for the first time can be enough to make you sick. At least that’s what health care consultant firm Merritt Hawkins found when they phoned doctors’ offices throughout 15 metropolitan areas to set up initial, non-emergency appointments. The wait between making an appointment and actually seeing a family physician, for example, averaged as long as 56 days in Boston to as short as five days in Dallas. For an obstetrician/gynecologist, it ranged from 46 days in Boston to ten days in Seattle; for a dermatologist, 72 days in Boston to 16 days in Miami; to see a cardiologist for a routine heart checkup, 32 days in Washington to 11 days in Atlanta; and to see an orthopedic surgeon for a knee injury, 18 days in San Diego to five days in Philadelphia, Minneapolis or Houston.

And that was in 2013. Before Obamacare made 4.7 million households lose the health plans and doctors they’d been told they could keep – period. And before another 10 million with employer-based coverage – ten times the original estimate – will follow in their footsteps, according to Congressional Budget Office figures.

That’s an awful lot of people looking for doctors, and this week an online service called ZocDoc launched an advertising test campaign to help consumers find one, much in the way that Uber helps people find taxis. In addition to time lags between making appointments and seeing doctors, there’s what marketing vp Richard Fine calls “friction in the patient experience.” This, he wrote in a May 19 email, is “difficulty and frustration booking a doctor’s appointment—whether its [sic] excruciating hold time and music or a doctor not accepting new patients.” An audit of health care providers nationwide “revealed that 60% of patients are not able to successfully book an appointment on the first phone call,” he added.

Yet, even though there’s an impending shortage of doctors – a nationwide shortfall of 91,500 by 2025, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts – doctors have a surplus of time. Cancellations, no-shows and shifting schedules can take up as much as 25 percent of a doctor’s day, and by accessing what Fine calls this “hidden supply” of potential appointment time, ZocDoc can make the claim that their “typical patient sees a doctor within 24 hours.”

That’s one thing that differs from the doctor referral services that hospital organizations like HCA have been advertising in media from television to email for decades. Three others are that, being online, ZocDoc works 24/7; it lets you check out doctors in advance with verified reviews, and it lets you fill out the reams of initial paperwork, including medical history, just once regardless of how many different doctors in their system you’re seeing.

This week, ZocDoc launched a test-market advertising campaign to run from now through this summer to communicate these differences to consumers in Phoenix and Austin. They’ve bought morning and prime time television on the four alphabet networks, along with cable channels E!, TLC, Bravo and Food Network; color pages in city magazines including Phoenix Magazine, Austin Magazine, Austin Fit and Raising Arizona Kids; radio on five of each market’s top ten stations, along with Pandora targeted only to subscribers in those metros; outdoor; and digital ads running online during midday and right after end of the work day, when most doctor appointments are booked.

While chances are excellent that target audiences will be exposed to the messages, the odds are longer that they’ll actually get the messages they’re exposed to. One reason for this is that the television/radio and print/digital campaigns have two completely different looks and feels. So instead of reinforcing the message, they’ll likely work to fragment it. Another is that, because it’s more interesting, the executions in all media dwell almost completely on an aspect of the problem and go just short of blowing off the solution – perhaps because they think consumers already know as much about ZocDoc as the client and agency do.

One television spot, for example, shows 25 seconds of a woman in a corporate cube farm furtively whispering her symptoms into her phone so no one will hear and just five seconds with information about the product. This information consists, in its entirety, of silent titles which say, “Book doctors online,” “Get better better,” and show a still shot of a smartphone, the logo, and the URL. Same for the second spot, in which a woman, at home, unconvincingly reels off imaginary rabies symptoms in order to jump the appointment line. Same deal in the last five seconds, except instead of saying “Book doctors online,” the title says, “Doctors when you want them.” And it’s not just a matter of time constraints; after some hilarious parody on-hold music while the patient holds the line, the 60-second radio commercial has just 6 seconds of specific product sell, but that’s enough to clinch the deal: “You can now find doctors, read reviews and book online at ZocDoc-dot-com. Get Better Better.” While the print, outdoor and digital ads  share the white-type-on-teal (the health care equivalent of blue pinstripes)-background look of the television’s last five seconds, they feature cartoon illustration rather than photography, so they look very different.

Between endemic visibility problems, abysmally low clickthrough rates, and the draconian restraints that the small space of digital ads imposes on copywriting, verbal clarity is essential. Many of the digital ads rise to the challenge (“Find the right doctor for what’s wrong with you” and “Next Thursday doesn’t always work for your malaria,” for example, along with “Focus on being a doctor, not a salesman” aimed at getting doctors to sign up), while some don’t (e.g., “Let us do the nagging for you”).

This underlines three lessons that all advertisers – regardless of product or service, regardless of medium, regardless of budget (or lack thereof) – need to learn:

  1. Never, ever, assume that your audience knows as much about your brand as you do or that your selling points are obvious.
  2. Consistency of look and feel from one medium to the next reinforces your communication instead of fragmenting it.
  3. Clarity of communication is essential – even if it means shortening the windup in your 30-second television commercial to add another second or two to the pitch.

Sophisiticated Neuroscience Research ‘discovers’ What Good Copywriters Have Known All Along

neuroscience

Talk about killing flies with an elephant gun. Nielsen, the audience research company, put together a consumer neuroscience group to help advertisers learn how to “break trough the clutter” of “competing messages constantly fighting for consumers’ attention.” A worthy goal when you consider that in an average day, every man, woman and child in this country is bombarded with 1,800 advertising sales  messages. Over 16 waking hours, that’s 112.5 ad messages an hour, 1.875 a minute, or one sales message every 32 seconds. (It’s almost as bad as spending your whole life watching an endless parade of television :30s.) In a massive deployment of the latest whizzy super high tech, they assembled “a combination of electroencephalography (EEG) and eye-tracking measurements” to “capture people’s reactions, long before they are able to consciously verbalize their thoughts…provide insights that survey-based questionnaires cannot replicate” and “measure not only overall response to a given [advertising] execution but also what captures viewers’ attention, what engages them on an emotional level and what will be retained in memory.”

Then they deployed this Big Brother-like neuroscientific array on behalf of the United Nations World Food Programme to test American and British consumers’ responsiveness to an assortment of print ads. They monitored “eye-tracking measurements” and “levels of memory activation, emotional engagement and action intent.” Let’s forget for the moment that sitting around a lab with brains wired for sound and who knows what else doesn’t exactly replicate how consumers see and react to ads in their homes or in the marketplace and assume that Nielsen’s conclusions were still fairly accurate.

Do you know what those conclusions were? Make sure you’re sitting down for this:

What all this big-time neuroscience technology found was [drum roll] that “including a simple benefit statement allowed viewers to connect how their response would make a tangible impact and consequently was shown to increase action intent.” Translated into simple, everyday, nonscientific language that means that people are most interested in “What’s in it for me?”

This astonishing revelation is something that good advertising copywriters have known for decades, if not for at least a century. Ad makers have always known that sales points can be broken down into a hierarchy of four categories: features, attributes, benefits and end benefits. A feature is something built into the product. An attribute is a quality or characteristic that results from that feature. A benefit is something good that the product or service’s features and attributes do for you, the consumer. And an end benefit is something even better that the benefit does for you. Long before Neilsen started blinding advertiers with neuroscience, copywriters knew that features and attributes were the weakest selling points, while benefits and end benefits were the strongest.

Miller used this knowledge to revolutionize beer advertising in 1979. Before then, most beer advertising was feature-driven, with commercials rhapsodizing over the quality of the hops, barley and water that comprised each brew’s ingredients. The “Miller Time” campaign changed all that by positioning its beer as a great way to reward yourself for a hard day’s blue-collar work. Budweiser shortly adopted the same positioning with its “For all you do, this Bud’s for you” campaign.

Until 2012, Wal-Mart advertising was built around a feature – everyday low prices, with specific examples that updated from week to week. Then, in an outreach to higher-end consumers, they switched to a four-word campaign line – “Save Money. Live Better.” that combined a benefit and end benefit. Saving money was the benefit that resulted from everyday low prices. And living better was the end benefit you could enjoy by virtue of having saved money.

In the most effective ads, you see benefits and end benefits as the brand’s main promise, with attributes and features, if they’re there at all, as support points for the promise. That’s because human beings are hard-wired to look out for their own best interests – something so obvious, it doesn’t take high-tech neuroscience to discover.

Older And Newer Media Are Eating Cable Television’s Lunch

nocable

Cable television is caught between the jaws of a vise. One jaw, says the Washington Post, is a newer medium – the Internet, with its instantaneous social-media news bulletins and streaming longer-format shows and movies. But the other jaw is an older medium – one which it looked for several decades that cable would replace, namely, over-the-air broadcast television (OTA, as it’s known for short). More than 12.3 million households “depend solely on over-the-air broadcasting for their live TV viewing” according to Nielsen audience research, the Los Angeles Times reports. That’s just 11 percent of all television homes, but it may be only the beginning. There’s also this number from Nielsen: From the end of 2013 to the end of 2014, the number of US homes using a combination of broadband and OTA for their television viewing grew almost 10 percent, from 5.6 to 6.1 million.

OTA’s threat to cable is partly economic, but mostly demographic. While some homes are abandoning cable because they can’t afford it, writes Stephen Battaglio, “a growing number of [cable-cutters] are millennials who use over-the-air TV for live sports and broadcast network shows on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox[,] while getting a wide array of programs from streaming video services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. They are happy to pay for broadband Internet, but not TV.” When the National Association of Broadcasters gave away 1,000 TV antennas last year, notes NAB evp Dennis Wharton,  the Washington, DC, event attracted not only “people who disconnected their cable or satellite TV service to save money,” but also “plenty of congressional staffers and millennials who have taken to over-the-air viewing in the way they have made vinyl records hot again in the music business.”

For consumers and advertisers alike, broadcast technology has severely eroded a cable superiority over OTA – the number and variety of channels. While analog OTA could offer at most a dozen channels – and that many only in a very major market – cable offered hundreds. But the 2009 switchover to digital OTA has freed up spectrum, which broadcasters are starting to use, with dozens of new digital channels. For viewers, this means more to watch for free. For advertisers, it means better ability to target audiences demographically and psychographically, according to program content, just as they now do with cable. Particularly in major markets like Los Angeles and New York, OTA is a very efficient medium for ethic advertisers, with a wide range of non-English-language programs and higher penetration among Latinos (16 percent) and Asian Americans (15 percent) than among the population as a whole.

The other jaw of the vise is the Internet, which has been crushing cable ratings, particularly ratings of cable news channels. Combined viewership for Fox, CNN and MSNBC has fallen 19 percent overall since 2009 (coincidentally the year that OTA went digital), 26 percent during prime time. MSNBC alone lost 14 percent of its overall audience and 8 percent of prime-time viewers last year. With fewer viewers for the category, cable news channels are fighting for bigger slices of a shrinking pie. Cable and satellite televiison is a mature industry; few, if any, new homes remain to be hooked up. But while cable penertration is, at best, static, “fast Internet connections have exploded, shifting the demand for instantaneous news from TV sets to smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. With its lengthy, linear storytelling style, cable news seems poorly adapted for social media, which emphasizes bite-size, shareable stories and clips.”

And cable news channels could very well be only the first of the falling dominos. Business channels (CNBC, Fox Business, Bloomberg TV), tabloid channels, and even that staple for reaching business travelers, the Weather Channel, are also hurting. After all, when was the last time you turned on your television for a fairly recent weather report instead of clicking on your smartphone, tablet or laptop to see what the weather is right here and right now?

You wouldn’t know it from the cable channels’ balance sheets, though. That’s because while advertising revenues are based on audience size, they’re far from the main source of cable television revenue. That source is carriage fees – the sum that cable and satellite systems pay the cable channels to carry their programs to subscribers. Those were set years ago, when cable audiences were bigger; when the contracts run out, cable channels can look forward to some aggressive renegotiation.

Some cable system operators are already starting to, in effect, abandon the cable channels that were once their raison d’être; Cablevision, for example, has started packaging broadband Internet with OTA antennas. And cable channels, such as HBO, have developed an Internet presence with streaming programs and partnerships with Amazon video. But while many consumers will find commercial-free HBO content worth paying subscription fees for, the same can’t be said of, say MSNBC.

How To Get More Consumers To Read Your Emails

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This is no April Fool’s joke: According to an emailed March 31 Center for Media Research Brief  [no link available], a majority of consumers (60 percent, a Technology Advice survey of more than 1,300 adults found) do read the marketing emails in their inboxes. But only 16 percent read them regularly, 12.8 percent read more than half of the marketing emails they receive, and only 8.1 percent said they read three-quarters or more. The difference between being among that 8.1 percent and the 40 percent of emails that get trashed as spam is as clear-cut as the difference between sending prospects information that could be of use or value to them and sending emails that heavy-handedly try to trick them. In other words, “the majority of American adults are open to receiving emails from businesses, and they read a fair amount of these correspondences and offers,” the Research Brief notes. But “[m]ost readers are quite discerning about which emails they open, which represents the catch in the email marketing proposition.”

(Two caveats here: First, respondents were talking about marketing emails they’d subscribed to receive. And second, the percentages they gave were estimates. So while the overall findings are valid, don’t take every single specific that follows too literally.)

Probably the simplest and most effective way to increase your emails’ readership is to better match their content to your subscriber list, because how people read emails varies with age and gender. Readership drops markedly among recipients over 45 years old, while nearly half (47 percent) of respondents aged 25 to 34 said they read 25 to 75 percent of all emails sent by businesses. Men and women read emails for different things – men for news and updates, women for promotions and discounts.

You could also make your emails more effective by sending fewer of them. A plurality of respondents (almost 44 percent) said they’d be more responsive to business emails if the businesses sent them less often.

Most important, you could strive to make sure your emails actually have some relevance to the recipients. Almost half the respondents (49.1 percent) complained of getting irrelevant emails every day, another 29 percent every week. That’s just about eight out of every ten consumers who get marketing emails. (I’m amazed that number’s not higher. There’s not an hour, much less a day, that goes by without my inbox being crammed with the same repeated emails about cures for my nonexistent diabetes, sealants for the floor of my nonexistent garage, thanking me for my nonexistent visit to Walgreen’s, offering sure-fire systems for winning the lottery [which I’ve never entered even once], and shrieking about some nonexistent “health scandal” involving Oprah or some other celebrity I couldn’t care less about.)

Consumers aren’t dummies. As the survey shows, they’re willing to give their time (and often their dollars) for something that’s worth their while. And ready to instantly bounce or trash all those mindless emails that are nothing but thinly disguised con games.

Well-intentioned Art Director Learns The Limits Of Awareness

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A big-hearted Chicago art director couldn’t do anything about his city’s homeless people’s mental illness, addiction and substance abuse. But he could address another of their problems – amateur typography. So he’s been working, one-on-one, to redesign their signage, according to a March 26 Adweek report.

“Since moving to Chicago in July of 2014,” the art director posts on his blog,

I’ve noticed the abundance of less-fortunate people asking for help on the streets. I’ve also seen how infrequently people tend to interact with them.

As an art director it’s my job to grab people’s attention with great design everyday [sic]. So I set out to see if great design could have an impact on people in the most ignored platform.

Each week I head out and meet someone new. I then spend the week hand lettering a new sign for them. Once I give them the sign I wait another week and then ask them if they noticed any difference in awareness.

As you’ll see from the before-and-after photos in the slide show, his redesigns have been great improvements in esthetics. They’ve also produced big increases in awareness, which in turn produced compliments and led to conversations.

  • “Despite only using the sign for roughly 2 hours the day before and four hours that day, Roger said that he had gotten 12 compliments on the sign. He said he has never had a sign that received compliments like that…He told me he saves it for special occasions because he doesn’t want to dingy it up. However, he said he brought it out on Wednesday and people loved it. He told me that people were calling him over to their cars to talk to him and people who wouldn’t normally stop were stopping to compliment him.”
  • “Mike told me that people really like the sign and that they keep saying how awesome it is. He said the sign is catching their eyes and more people are stopping by now that it’s starting to warm up.”
  • “Fred said that because it was so crazy downtown over St. Patrick’s Day, he wasn’t out. He said that he had managed to use [the new sign] a couple times and hadn’t noticed too much of a difference but that it had been slow lately.”

But while compliments and conversations are nice, they aren’t contributions.

Yes, the art-directed signs are overcoming homeless people’s invisibility. But no, they aren’t doing much beyond that. Which leads to an important conclusion about advertising effectiveness: Awareness is important, because before people can’t respond to ads they don’t see or hear. But, like the best of humanitarian intentions, awareness itself will take you only so far. Once you’ve captured people’s attention, you need to persuade them to do something specific.

With Much To Be Unhappy About, Coke Is Dropping Its ‘happiness’ Ad Campaign

unhappy

Even though they’ve spent tens of millions of dollars on it over six years; even though they’ve run it in print, broadcast and digital media in more than 200 markets worldwide; and even though they went so far as to record a single of its theme song (just as they did in 1971 for their “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” campaign), it appears that Coca-Cola’s no longer happy with its  “Open Happiness” ad campaign. “The brand has asked 10 roster agencies to pitch ideas for Coke’s next global campaign: Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, Ore.; David; Dentsu; FCB in South Africa; Martin Mercado; McCann in Madrid; Ogilvy; Santo; Sra Rushmore; and The Cyranos,” Adweek reported March 23.

Maybe it’s because their new (five months on the job) chief marketing officer, Marcos de Quinto, had a case of the New Broom Syndrome. (It’s not unheard of; in 2012, a new CMO eager to make her mark not only fired Avis Rent A Car’s advertising agency, but trashed the iconic “We try harder” slogan that had saved the company from bankruptcy and served them well for half a century.)

Maybe it was because Coke actually means what a representative told Adweek, that Coke was looking for a new campaign “to ensure it continues to have global appeal, engages and entertains consumers, and drives business growth.” Sure.

Or maybe it was because of a reported worldwide implosion of soda sales, particularly diet sodas. As the maker of the biggest diet and non-diet soda brands, Coke would be the biggest loser.

Coca-Cola failed to hit its 2014 long-term growth target; as of the third quarter, profits were down 14 percent. That’s overall. But what’s worse is the continuing decline in diet soda sales and profits. “Sales of low calorie soft drinks in the United States have tumbled by almost 20 percent over the past five years,” writes Roberto A. Ferdman in the Washington Post. “This year, diet soda sales are on pace to drop another 5 percent. By 2019, they are projected to have fallen off by roughly a third since their peak in 2009.”

Sales of Diet Coke, the number-three soda brand (after regular Coke and Pepsi), dropped 15 percent in the past two years and almost a third since 2005.  But Diet Coke’s doing pretty well compared to its competitors. Diet Pepsi sales are down 35 percent, Diet 7-Up 33 percent and Diet Dr. Pepper 25 percent. That’s in the US. Worldwide, diet soda sales were down 20 percent over the decade ending last year, according to Euromonitor. Howard Telford, an industry analyst at the marketing data firm, blames it on consumer fears of artificial sweeteners. “Consumer’s [sic] attitudes towards sweeteners have really changed,” he says. “There’s a very negative perception about artificial sweeteners. The industry is still trying to get its head around this.”

Okay, but that fails to explain what Pepsico Chairman Indra Nooyi called “a fundamental shift in consumer habits and behaviors” away from sodas in general – diet and non-diet alike.

“Soda, once marketed as an everyday staple, is now seen as an occasional treat, especially among younger demographics” Ferdman notes. “More than a third of consumers aged 18 to 36 years old consider the drink a treat, according to market research firm Mintel.” So if folks are going to treat themselves to sodas only every now and then, why not go for hi-test instead of unleaded?

But that’s only part of the answer. Another part may be that the soda industry is falling victim to what the beer industry has been suffering through for over a quarter-century. Budweiser, for example, has seen shrinking sales year after year since 1988. One factor in this steady decline has been the proliferation of alternatives – in Budweiser’s case, the growth of craft beers, which in 2013 shipped 100,000 more barrels than Bud did. If Coke is the Budweiser of the soda industry, then a whole variety of of beverages – bottled waters, energy drinks, iced teas, vitamin waters, all kinds of fruit juices, you name it – are the craft beers.

Whether Mr. de Quinto’s replacement for the “Happiness” campaign can overcome that trend, nobody knows. But it’s safe to say he definitely has something to be unhappy about.

Budweiser Masquerades As Craft Beer – Again

Masquerade

 

In Budweiser’s love-hate relationship with craft beers, the pendulum has swung again, according to a March 18 Advertising Age report.

Three years ago, in late 2012, Budweiser liked craft beers so much that they sincerely flattered them – by going to market with three imitation craft beers formulated to reverse a consecutive quarter-century of slumping sales by reaching out to a lost generation of younger beer drinkers, 65 percent of whom had never tried the brand even once. This obviously didn’t work, because the very next year – 2013, the last full year for which Beer Marketer’s Insights numbers are available – craft brewers outsold Budweiser by 100,000 barrels.

That’s when the hate part of the relationship set in. Planning for their 2015 Super Bowl advertising, the brewer decided that if they couldn’t join craft beers, they’d fight ’em. The result was the brand’s “Brewed the Hard Way” commercial, boasting that Bud was a “macro brew” and taking shots at them gol-derned, newfangled “fruity craft beer” upstarts.

Now, with a 90-second online video,  Budweiser’s trying to love and hate craft beers, to fight ’em and join ’em, all at once. The  video uses the tired, old hidden taste test trick to show that Brooklyn hipsters love Budweiser once they actually try it. In it, a bartender tells the audience that the bar we’re seeing has been wired with hidden cameras, to get the reactions of “unsuspecting customers” as they try “special beer on tap.” When the “unsuspecting customers” belly up to the bar, he tells them that this beer is “brewed to a 139-year-old recipe” and “beechwood aged” (Those descriptions are meaningless to most people, but have the supposed virtue of sounding vaguely artisanal.)  and then asks for their reactions.

On several levels, this approach is as phony as the very idea of passing Budweiser off as a craft beer. The first piece of phoniness is the assumption that Brooklyn is still Hipster Central. It hasn’t been. For years. “Brooklyn was once Mecca for hipsterdom,” writes Ad Age managing editor Ken Wheaton. “Sure, many ‘real’ hipsters now consider it, ya know, kinda sorta played out? Because, like, it’s so expensive and there’s too many people with money and families and stuff? And The New York Times writes about it?”

Phony assumption number two is that hipsters – if there any are still left in Brooklyn – are or ever have been expert beer aficionados. As Wheaton notes, “Brooklyn hipsters were the ones who put Pabst (Motto: ‘What else are you going to drink at this price point?’) back on the map. For hipsters, cheapness was one of Pabst’s two virtues. The other was a kind of perverse exclusivity; because it tasted so much like swill, nobody but hipsters would buy it.

The last bit of phoniness is the on-camera blind taste test itself. First, because it can set up false expectations in the testees. “Blind taste tests are known for making people look like fools (or, in marketing speak, question their preconceived notions about a product),” says Wheaton, “And these people — well, the ones carefully selected for the purposes of this interview for Bud — were totally tricked into thinking Budweiser was some sort of new craft brew.” And third, once you’ve stacked the deck by how you select the on-camera consumers and by the setup you feed them, you can control them further by how you edit their responses; somehow, the negative ones never make it off today’s digital equivalent of the cutting-room floor.

Wheaton sums up the technique as “Just pretend it’s a craft brew; they don’t know any better.” But that’s not completely fair to the so-called hipsters in this video. Despite all of Budweiser’s contrivances, the most enthusiastic responses they could muster were, “I like it,” “It’s a reliable beer,” “This would be great on, like, a hundred-degree day,” and “This is a Budweiser?” And if those were the best of the lot, who knows what didn’t make it into the finished video.