Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Service of Switch and Bait Marketing

Monday, August 15th, 2022

Morgan Library garden

I visited the new $6 million garden at the Morgan Library and got into an argument about it with a friend who told me what was obvious: Much of the money couldn’t have been spent on the garden but on upgrades, such as cleaning of the adjacent building. She started to detail the structural and evident superficial improvements that justified the expenditure.

“STOP,” I pleaded.

“Why,” I asked, “were the sponsored social media postings about the $6 million garden which, compared to many others in the city, is a nonevent?” [Plus it’s rarely open to the public.] “Why didn’t they promote the remedial work on the resplendent building as well?”

If the idea was to entice me to visit the museum to see the garden they won. But it will be a long while before their promotions catch me again because I don’t like switch and bait style marketing.

I’m particularly sensitive to this because I’ve spent much of my career tamping down clients’ exuberant claims which might work in advertising or make a client happy but would not pass the smell test with me in PR. “This unique leaf-patterned wallpaper or textile,” for example, would never see its way into my press release copy when said motif is a traditional fern or banana leaf. In fact, the word unique doesn’t apply to most leaf motifs. Nor would I reference a $6 million garden when short of a rip-off, that’s probably not where so much money went.

Politicians do this. They ask for money to support a situation–say a lawsuit against them–and divert the money to something else. Their supporters don’t seem to mind as they keep on giving.

Do you ever feel bamboozled by a promotion, reminiscent of a shell game, that disappoints?


Image by Yousz from Pixabay

Service of Formal Entertaining: In Fashion or Wishful Thinking?

Thursday, March 17th, 2022

We're breaking out of pandemic mode, some more gingerly than others, into unprecedented inflation, a zigzagging stock market with war on the wings. When, last week, I passed these Bloomingdale's windows dressed for spring I had, simultaneously, contradictory reactions. One was a flashback to a time people gave formal dinner parties not associated with Thanksgiving and other traditional gatherings--me included. Perhaps the store's tabletop team had hopes of inspiring Easter and Passover celebrations, the next ones up. St. Patrick's Day's corned beef and cabbage, as yummy as it is, doesn't evoke gold rimmed plates.

So who would buy these elegant dishes and wine glasses? Young people aren’t interested in things much less luxurious ones, and many older people, who might want them, already own them. Friends tell me that they have a hard time passing on family heirlooms to their offspring.

I asked Google for the items that top bridal registries and for March 2022 they are, in this order: Cookware (nonstick skillet, sauté pan, pasta pot, saucepan, etc.); Bakeware (roasting pan, casserole dish, baking sheets, loaf pans, muffin tins, etc.); Knives (serrated knife, paring knife, chef’s knife, etc.); Cutting boards; Dutch oven; Cast iron skillet; Stand mixer and Food processor.

I thought “that can’t be right! Not a plate?” and hit “more” which led me to Sarah Zlotnick’s article in brides.com, “The Ultimate Wedding Registry Checklist.” Under “Dining and Entertaining Registry Ideas” she lists: Everyday dishware (eight to 12 settings—dinner plates, dessert and/or salad plates, bowls); Everyday drinking glasses (eight to 12); Mugs (eight to 12); Flatware (eight to 12 settings); Steak knives (eight to 12); Wine glasses (red and white); Champagne flutes; Salad bowl and serving utensils

Serving bowls, platters, and trays jump in at the end and the Specialty glassware (margarita glasses, martini glasses, rocks glasses) and Colored Stemware.

I loved to dress a table because it was fun, I liked to look at something pretty and I felt that it said to my guests, “I wanted to honor/please you.” I think that I should invite over some friends and do a table up round even if I’m ordering in Chinese, Mexican or pizza. Maybe manufacturers should promote their products this way rather than in the same old same old. The market has been stagnant for them since well before the pandemic. I wonder if, like changing dress and skirt hem lengths, the fashion for formal entertaining will ever return just for the fun of it.

Service of Due Diligence

Monday, December 13th, 2021


Image by aerngaoey from Pixabay 

It pays to ask questions or do a modicum of research which some marketers have learned the hard way. According to businessinsider.com, in the 1990s Yardley hadn’t asked actor Helena Bonham Carter about her makeup routine before they announced their relationship with her. After she publicly admitted she didn’t wear makeup and couldn’t fathom why they chose her, they cut their association that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.


Image by Hannah Wesolowski from Pixabay 

In 1989 PepsiCo staff needed only look at Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” music video to determine that it didn’t reflect the image they sought. Yet they paid her $5million to appear in benign commercials which included the then new song. “While the ad itself was PG,” reported Laura Stampler, “Madonna’s music video for the song in which she witnesses a rape and gyrates around a burning cross incited an explosion of controversy.” Would checking that have been so hard to do?

And what about recently? In the “Sex and the City” reboot, “And Just Like That…” on HBO Max that premiered last week, a main character, Mr. Big, dies after a 45 minute Peloton class on a Peloton stationary bike–a super product placement gone south. The company didn’t pay for the placement but knew their equipment was being used, reported Joseph Pisani and Megan Graham in The Wall Street Journal. It also approved a Peloton instructor, Jess King, appear in the segment.

Did anyone at Peloton ask enough questions or demand answers before playing ball? “While Peloton coordinated with HBO on the placement of one of its bikes, HBO didn’t disclose the plot in advance because of ‘confidentiality reasons,’ Peloton said.” Lesson learned to leave nothing to trust in future?

Peloton spokespeople put a good face on it. “’Mr. Big lived what many would call an extravagant lifestyle—including cocktails, cigars, and big steaks—and was at serious risk,’ said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist on Peloton’s health and wellness advisory council, in a statement from the company.” The reporters ended the article: “Peloton said there is some good news: ‘Riding his Peloton bike may have even helped delay his cardiac event,’ Dr. Steinbaum said.”

It’s not only in business we need to ask questions and insist on answers. The husband of a friend swallowed pills that killed him. He didn’t check the product insert and counted on his doctor to remember his health history that contraindicated the drug.

Are you good at asking questions? Do you know of other examples in which a well known company missed the boat due to lack of research? Are there any elements in our lives that we can leave to trust?


Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay 

Service of I’m Not Weeping: Feeble Crises Due To Tech Blip

Thursday, December 9th, 2021


Image by Ashish Bogawat from Pixabay 

I couldn’t tell if Sarah E. Needleman was being sarcastic when she chose the examples for her article “Amazon Outage Disrupts Lives, Surprising People About Their Cloud Dependency,” in the Wall Street Journal.

Disrupts lives? She reported that as a result there was one couple who had to manually feed their cats “like in ancient times,” the husband said, because their automatic cat feeder didn’t work.  A man complained that he had to use a broom and dustpan to clean up crumbs from the muffin he dropped on the kitchen floor because his Roomaba robot vacuum was disabled. Another felt lonely because he couldn’t ask Alexa for news updates or the weather. Alexa’s disconnect disrupted a woman’s day because she couldn’t ask it to turn on and off her lights. In addition, as the outage impacted Zappos, she couldn’t track a package.

Note: None of these people were disabled and dependent on technology to literally work for them. So I am not weeping.

About the December 7 cloud interruption Needleman wrote that “Amazon Web Services is the largest cloud-computing service provider in the U.S. The outage of much of its network lasted most of the day and disrupted several of the tech giant’s services, as well as many of its corporate customers’ websites and apps.

“It affected the company’s videoconferencing tool Chime and its home-security system Ring, plus many third-party applications that sit on top of Amazon’s cloud, including Ticketmaster and streaming services from Walt Disney Co. and Netflix Inc.

Echo smart home box
Image by hamburgfinn from Pixabay  

“For many consumers, it was an awakening to how many internet-enabled devices they now have in their homes and how much even some of their most basic daily needs depend on a connection to the cloud.”

Basic daily needs? What happened to food and shelter?

My health insurance company tried to get me to download an invoice when in the past they’ve mailed one with months worth of coupons. I was burned by linking to a fake document so instead I called to confirm what I thought was in the document.

This insurance is solely for the old and the ancient. I wonder if I’m alone in requesting paper for what doesn’t fit in an email. I’m not a total luddite: I’m happy to access my bank accounts online but I’m the one seeking the information and inserting my user names and passwords.

As technology surges on, I’ve noticed a vigorous trend for old fashioned marketing at the same time. This is the first year in ages I’ve been inundated by catalogs. I photographed the ones that came in just the last few weeks–photo below. I haven’t ordered from a catalog in a dog’s age. Can’t figure out the timing of this approach.

Are you addicted to your cloud and app-connected devices? If the reporter is serious and the lives of the owners of these devices are “disrupted” when they don’t work, impacting their “basic daily needs,” what does this say about the direction of our society? Should one company have so much “power” over people’s lives?

Service of a Marketing Idea with Legs

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Flamboyant expressions of love associated with Valentine’s Day today were initially ignited by Hallmark which early in the 20th Century was the first to mass-produce Valentine’s cards. Up until then lovers made cards by hand according to Sam Becker in usatoday.com. Other symbols of affection in the day were generally low-key.

Sellers of candy, flowers, perfume and jewelry jumped on the bandwagon and amplified the holiday which ratcheted the expectations of some in relationships. No doubt the pressure to show amour in the appropriate way–$100+ rose bouquets and even engagement rings–when feelings of affection by one of the parties are tepid at best, is the cause of the breakups that happen the week before February 14, more than at any other time of year. [The runners up: the weeks before Christmas according to bustle.com.]

I’ve loved Valentine’s day for as long as I can remember. When I was very young my parents would hide their initials on cards–they were my secret admirers. It was fun to find the RKR and GBR hidden in the illustrations. In the early grades–I went to an all-girls school–we deposited cards in a big box and they’d be distributed by a few of the kids. I still exchange cards with some friends. As fewer people send cards today Hallmark is keeping up its brand’s flame through romantic films on the Hallmark Channel.

Don’t you love the giant red hearts that decorate store and restaurant windows and cheer February’s gloomy gray days? I’m also very fond of the iconic heart shape.

Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Does a favorite one stand out? What’s the most outrageous example of devotion on February 14 that you’ve ever heard of?

Service of Who Influences You Now?

Monday, November 4th, 2019

When Pete Wells, The New York Times’ restaurant critic, recently gave legendary Brooklyn steakhouse Peter Luger zero stars, down from two, his review–Peter Luger Used to Sizzle. Now it Sputters–which knocked the stuffing out of the place, drew plenty of attention on local media.

I’ve not heard of similar impact if a social media venue gave a thumbs down to a product or service. Yet companies believe in their significance to move goods and are paying plenty to get a thumbs up from people they’ve identified as social media influencers to rave to followers on Instagram, Facebook and the like.

According to Suzanne Kapner and Sharon Terlep in their Wall Street Journal article: “What began as friends and family sharing their favorite products has become a lucrative advertising industry of celebrity endorsers, influencers and meme creators. Such paid endorsements, known as sponsored content, are the online equivalent of a 30-second TV spot. Big-name stars can command $100,000 or more for a single YouTube video or Instagram photo.”

As so often happens, greed among some has weakened the value of what had become a good thing for the influencers. [The jury is still out as to whether such endorsements actually sell product and with some manufacturers the bloom is already off the rose.]

The reporters wrote in “Advertisers Sour on Online Influencers,” that “a whiff of deceit now taints the influencer marketplace. Influencers have strained ties with advertisers by inflating the number of their followers, sometimes buying fake ones by the thousands. They also have damaged their credibility with real-life followers by promoting products they don’t use.”

The long Journal article gives examples, excuses and alternatives–some advertisers are now using their customers instead of celebrities to endorse products instead–but the paragraph above hits the crux of the flaws in the concept whereby consumers lost trust in influencer claims.  In addition, advertisers can’t track or confirm the success of a YouTube video or Instagram endorsement.

In fact Ipsy, the beauty products company that launched the trend eight years ago is “Now the brand leading the way again, this time by pulling back” from endorsements by influencers.

Nevertheless Kapner and Terlep reported that the influencer industry is still lucrative: Global estimates range from $4.1 to $8.2 billion/year in 2019 versus $500 million four years ago. Influencers have made 50 percent more each year in the last two. “Prices per Instagram post range from $200 for an influencer with as few as 10,000 followers to more than $500,000 for celebrities with millions of followers, according to Mediakix.”

One flaw: So-called influencers can easily bolster their follower numbers by hiring “click farms” that “employ people to inflate on-line traffic.” For $49 and $39 you can buy 1,000 YouTube and Facebook followers respectively and that number costs $16 on Instagram, one pundit estimated.

Do traditional reviews influence whether you’ll try a restaurant, product or buy tickets to a movie or Broadway show? Do you check out Yelp or websites that report what customers or patients think of establishments or doctors like ZocDoc? If a celebrity you admire says he/she likes a product on social media or anywhere else, do you give it a try?

Service of Marketers Ruling the Roost: When Hip Overrides Clarity

Monday, September 9th, 2019

When service or communications are poor, customers must wonder whether an operation is being run for them, the owners or the staff.

It may be none of the above.

Frequently the marketers run the show. Many are enamored of technology, to heck with whether or not the hip, new effect does the trick. It’s more important to appear to be cutting edge. Take revolving digital screens that move so quickly that customers can’t read and/or absorb the information fast enough. This isn’t a good choice for a fast food restaurant–or for anything else if the fast-moving screen features more than a few words with an image.

Britton O’Daly wrote “Wait, Where Did That Burger Go? Diners Struggle With Fast-Moving Digital Menus,” in The Wall Street Journal. In one example a customer was frustrated because he didn’t catch the name of a new chicken dish at McDonald’s so instead of waiting for the screen to return–he feared holding up the line–he ordered a burger. I wonder why he felt he couldn’t ask for “one of those new chicken dishes?”

That customer may have been intimidated by marketers who are also in love with the cutesy names they give their products. To be considered “in,” there’s pressure to use them. I break out in a rash when forced to order coffee at Starbucks [I admit you rarely see me in there]. If I want a small coffee with skim that is how I will order it. You can keep your Grande, Venti and Trenta. Phooey.

Back to the original subject. O’Daly wrote: “Digital billboards are now everywhere, and companies love them. The only problem: people have a hard time reading them.”

This harkens back to an amazing looking logo in an unreadable font that also irks me. What’s the point?

Why is the public intimidated into ordering food or drink using the names a company gives it? Why does management put aside common sense and allow marketers to incorporate the latest widget or gadget to communicate with the public even if the vehicle doesn’t do the job? And why does a marketing department, or its advisors, lead its clients down so many primrose paths?

Service of Billboards in the Right Places

Monday, April 1st, 2019

I first heard about a ban on billboards when driving through Vermont decades ago. According to vnrc.org, “Vermont was the first of four states, along with Maine, Hawaii and Alaska to ban billboards. In their place, Vermont uses travel information signs along state highway corridors to guide residents and visitors to destinations that are located off those highways. Typically these smaller, standard format signs are clustered together to further reduce their visual effect. Businesses with frontage on state roads and highways may install signs that conform to local sign regulations.”

Now New York City is fighting digital billboards on barges on Hudson and East Rivers. According to Katie Honan in The Wall Street Journal, “Zoning regulations prohibit advertising on waterways throughout most of the city, including along residential and commercial zones and in view of highways and bridges, according to city officials.”

She reported “‘Our waterways aren’t Times Square,’ Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said in a statement. ‘These floating eyesores have no place on them.'”

A Ballyhoo Media boat “carries 20-foot-tall and 60-foot-long TV screens displaying digital ads. It usually begins its routes on the Hudson River in Midtown, then heads south around Battery Park, continuing north up the East River to Roosevelt Island. The ads are visible to motorists driving on two waterfront roadways in Manhattan, the FDR Drive and the West Side Highway.”

If the judge favors the plaintiffs, each violation would be subject to a $25,000 a day fine. Two councilmen want the fee to be $100,000/day and are introducing a bill according to Honan.

What do you think about billboards: Should municipalities be even more particular about where they go? Do you find the information on them useful or distracting when you drive? Do you object to seeing floating billboards on New York City’s waterways?

Service of Two Marketing Home Runs & a Third That Strikes Out

Monday, December 10th, 2018

I am gleeful when I see a clever marketing campaign and am almost offended when what I thought was a smart organization falls short.

Here are two good ones and one not so.

Poster Perfect

I enjoyed a witty set of advertising posters on the Lexington Avenue express subway produced by Seamless, a food ordering and delivery service that’s part of the GrubHub family. It reminded readers that it knows its neighbors and what they most like to eat.

The campaign, written in a New York-y voice is eye-catching, and a mini relief for passengers in uncomfortable circumstances, inspiring them to smile.

Some of the headlines were:

  • “The Most Potassium-Rich Neighborhood –Murray Hill– based on the number of banana orders. No one’s cramping here”
  • “The Loudest Neighborhood–Park Slope Brooklyn –based on the number of chip orders. Your neighbors can actually hear you crunching”
  • “The Neighborhood in Most Need of a Vacation–Dyker Heights Brooklyn– based on the number of tropical smoothies ordered. Just take one already.

Subway Smiles

Another subway campaign hit the spot. Coca-Cola: Happiness starts with a smile – YouTube was produced by a Belgian agency. An actor looking at something on his tablet on a crowded train begins to laugh and his giggles are contagious. The tagline is “Happiness starts with a smile.” Towards the end of the ride people wearing red tee-shirts with the Coke logo hand passengers cans of soda and a postcard with the theme.

The Long and the Short of It

The second Obama Foundation Summit produced a lame campaign as far as its outreach to me is concerned. It came via email. The subject line “I want to hear your story Jeanne.” The theme: “Common Hope Uncommon Stories.”

Janelle Monáe, who signed the email, wrote: “No matter how different each of our tales are, we must do what we can to help each other achieve the extraordinary. When someone shares their story, we see the world through their eyes. That’s why I’m reaching out today. I want to hear your tale. Tell me your story in 10 words or less: How do you work towards a better future?”

I can be succinct but 10 words on a serious subject doth not a serious request make–even for an elevator pitch. Think that was a typo? Its impact on me: I stopped reading well before the bright red DONATE link at the bottom. I can think of some snarky 10 word retorts, such as “Get rid of the president,” though I’m not sure that they reflect me and my story. How many personal stories “work towards a better future?” Am I being persnickety and too literal? Have I lost my sense of humor?

Have you seen any clever ad campaigns on public transportation—trains, busses, subways? Was the Obama Foundation’s communication a fundraiser for the hip and therefore way over my head?

Service of a Once Iconic Brand That’s Lost Its Sex Appeal

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

A childhood neighbor used to tell me “You have to suffer to be beautiful.” In the day she was right. Women slept on giant rollers while now dryers whip hair styles into shape in minutes and fashions are also more relaxed. We’d never have dreamed of wearing sneakers or flip flops for any reason other than for gym class or to walk on the beach. Now both are the uniform of many in towns, cities and airports.

With obvious exceptions—facelifts for example which I’m told are very painful and make deep dents in pocketbooks too–comfort over vanity seems to have won in many of the best places. “Why Smart, Chic Women Are Abandoning High Heels [Forever],” wrote Chloe Malle recently in The Wall Street Journal.

Victoria’s Secret’s drooping bra business is the main reason L Brands’ stock is down 41 percent this year according to Elizabeth Winkler in the same paper. Bras represent 35 percent of their sales she reported. Customers are looking to the competition for “comfort and ease, not airbrushed fantasy,” she wrote. “In July, Victoria’s Secret’s semiannual sale was so weak the retailer was forced to extend it by two weeks and offer steeper discounts, leading analysts to declare the brand broken.

“Instead of $60 padded bras that sell male fantasies, women are opting for cheaper undergarments that prioritize their own comfort. Victoria’s Secret has tried to adapt with the times, ending its catalog, doubling down on sports bras and even releasing a collection of ‘bralettes’—bras without underwire and padding.”

Competition features different body types in its ads as compared to the Victoria’s Secret “traditional sex-infused marketing,” they wrote.

I wonder if the new team will adjust this image. The Christmas direct mail piece that landed in mailboxes this week [photos right and below left] featured the old Victoria’s Secret image and none of the sports bras and bralettes they claimed to have adopted. Clearly designed to inspire men to buy gifts and enjoy, it nevertheless ignored the reasons for the downturn in sales.

In a subsequent article in The Journal, Khadeeja Safdar and Maria Armental reported on additional moves the brand is taking to regain its momentum from adding a Tory Burch veteran/former president to run the lingerie division to halving its dividend.

Are you surprised that Victoria’s Secret was knocked off its pedestal in part by the drive for comfort? Do you shun uncomfortable clothes and shoes? Are you surprised by the trends for fashion conscious women identified by Journal reporters regarding flats over stilettos and less challenging underwear? Do you miss the formal days of yore?

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