Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Marmite Effect.

When the Unilever/Tesco spat blew up a couple of weeks ago, my immediate tongue in cheek response was to tweet that it was a clever marketing ploy designed to get a lot of earned media for low involvement products like Marmite.

Fast forward to today and I found myself in an online debate with some smart people after it was revealed that Marmite sales had soared by 61% during the dispute.

To my surprise, the majority were suggesting that this sales spike was all a bonus and would be reflected in the end of year sales total.

My argument is that I doubt one single unit of marmite was sold to a new user and that what we saw was a bunch of existing customers bringing forward an imminent purchase for fear that future shortages or price rises would disadvantage them. Exactly the sort of panic buying that the article claims wasn't happening. Yeah, right.

I'm a fully paid up memeber of the Byron Sharp school of saliency and accept that the publicity would generally be a good thing, but I think Marmite may be an exception. If we're to believe their advertising, this is a product that polarises and so it might be assumed that light users are few and far between. I don't know if this is true. It's just a feeling I have and if I'm right,then the amount of genuinely new sales is going to have been tiny.

Yes sales went up 1.2% during those two days, but that's a short-term spike and the proof of the pudding will be seen in a year's time when we'll see whether annual sales have risen by 1.2%. Or more. Or less. My bet is on the latter.

We rightly attack short-term effects in marketing (especially in effectiveness award papers) but then get super excited about this extraordinarily short term incident. Sometimes, marketers just baffle me.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Plenty Of Fish Where The Fish Are.

This is a snap of the analog equivalent of Subway Crush and that appears in a free paper distributed at railway stations in the UK.

I don't know how many connections are made, but I'd imagine it's not a large number given the randomness of the process and the paucity of recent activity on Subway Crush.

But here it's even less likely to happen because, as the guy who tweeted this points out, she's an avid book-reader being targetted with a message in a publication she clearly ignores. A perfect example of focussing on the broadcast to the exclusion of the recipient.

Now, the people selling ad space in the free paper would identify the woman as typical of their target demographic - something like literate aspirational commuter.  A perfect example of focussing on categorising the consumer rather than understanding the context of the experience.

 Fish where the fish are.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Under(estimating) The Influence.

If there's one thing I distrust more than the reams of unthinking nonsense written about influencer marketing, it's the idea that self-reported attitudinal research has any validity.

I've seen it claimed that the graphic above shows that social media "influencers" have little effect on people. I treat that claim with the same credence that I give to people who claim they're not influenced by advertising.

But, equally,  I wish that the influencer marketing zealots would read a little network theory and accept that virality is dependent on the structure of the network rather than the popularity of the "influencer".  Receptivity trumps volume every time.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Make Marketing Miserable.

At the recent Future Of Marketing 2016 conference, philosopher Alain de Boton reminded his audience that "marketing needs to admit that life can be miserable".

It's an outlook that obviously chimes with a philosophy that I outlined here ten years ago and which notes that every moment of frustration in a person's day is a marketing opportunity.

Clayton Christensen of disruption fame has a new book coming and it's focussed entirely on this concept of customers hiring brands to do a job for them in their life - a job which can range from quenching their thirst to making them feel better about themselves.

Marketing doesn't have to be about inspiration or aspiration, it's about being the brand that gets the job done.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Make Marketing Mythical.

Target crunched their data so that they could predict when women were pregnant - they did so in order to allow them to market all sorts of products to their families. There was outrage. We've all heard the story. I heard it again today. But is it true?

I had a memory of finding out that it wasn't true some years ago and I turned up this post that paints the whole episode as a theoretical discussion at a conference being reported as fact a year later.  

But this was something pointedly new, and I turned my head to scan the audience for any reactions. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Normally, for marketing projects, Predictive Analytics predicts buying behavior. Here, the thing being predicted was not something marketers care about directly, but, rather, something that could itself be a strong predictor of a wide range of shopping needs. After all, the marketer's job is to discover and pounce on demand. You can think of this predictive goal as a "surrogate" (sorry) for the pertinent shopping activities a retail marketer is paid to care about. 

A few months after Pole's presentation, New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg interviewed me. Exploring, he asked for interesting discoveries that had come from Predictve Analytics. I rattled off a few and included pregnancy prediction, pointing him to the online video of Pole's talk, which had thus far been receiving little attention, and introducing him to Pole. I must admit that by now the privacy question had left my mind almost entirely. 

One year later, in February 2012, Duhigg published a front-page New York Times Magazine article, sparking a viral outbreak that turned the Target pregnancy prediction story into a debacle. 
The article "How Companies Learn Your Secrets," conveys a tone that implies wrongdoing is a foregone conclusion. It punctuates this by alleging an anonymous story of a man discovering his teenage daughter is pregnant only by seeing Target's marketing offers to her, with the unsubstantiated but tacit implication that this resulted specifically from Target's Predictive Analytics project.

I haven't yet watched the video of the original talk, but this sounds like reasonable doubt to me. And still the myth prevails. Because despite all the claims marketers make about data, they're still too lazy to check even the basic facts.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Arrested Development's Over-reaction?

Netflix famously released the new season of Arrested Development in one hit in 2013. They did so because habits had changed and the practice of binge viewing had emerged. It didn't go well

Some habits have changed, but TV viewing is not collapsing (despite the received wisdom). The rationale was that people like to binge on serials (see Grant McCracken here ) but it struck me as an odd decision even if some people's viewing habits have changed.

Arrested Development fans didn't fall for the programme in this way (it had been 7 years since the series was broadcast). Netflix's revival of the series was sufficiently publicity-worthy. That was the event. No further stunt was needed

Arrested Development wasn't  viewed that way before so to do this required a change in the writing method which runs the risk of reducing the magic.

Arrested Development and other hip things have a position, they stand for something. But this was reactive marketing that aligned it with every other series and again diminshed the specialness of the event.

Bingeing is not fully understood - is bingeing watching the whole series in one sitting as people were prompted to do here or is it watching series rather than run the gauntlet of tv schedules? Wouldn't it have been enough to release batches of shows and let the tension rise?

Some reviewers watched episodes on a one by one basis and asked their audience to do the same and comment thereon. To reflect and digest as originally intended rather than hoover it all up because you can and because you can wear the bingeing badge.

Movies arent 8 hours long. TV viewing on average is 4hrs a day. So why encourage people to watch 8? It's bizarre.and it distorts and leads to reviews by people who are watching it in a different way than they did before, watching differently written programmes than they did before and reacting differently from how they did before.

Behaviours change and that's important to track, but understanding the context of that change is much more important.

P.S. If you're wondering why I give such an old example, the reason is simple. This was a post I'd drafted at the time and not got around to posting. It was interesting to notice that how I thought then is not so different from how I think now and to note the marketing fuss made about a trivial act of PR. Tactical marketing needs to be more strategic than this - done for a valid reason, not simply because it's possible.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016


After 30 days, activist Rob Greenfield will be wearing 135 pounds of trash that he will have generated while "living just like the average American". In the video, subway riders studiously ignore him. Because New York.

But I have a feeling that this one will go viral. A striking visual image that makes the intangible real,  visible and memorable. A striking visual image that will be spread by others. That's how you do marketing communication.