Q: What’s red and giggles and completely screwed up the American economy in December, 1996?A: Tickle-Me-Elmo

Have I ever mentioned that I worked in toy stores before I started building websites? I did this on and off for more than five years, and it was probably the best education I could have ever received in marketing and consumerism. Toys, especially around the holiday season, don’t get marketed to the people who will spend money on them; they get marketed to the people who will ask for them as gifts. Why? Because it’s easy to say no to an advertisement; it’s hard to say no to someone you love dearly.

(Have you ever tried to get two children to leave a toy store without buying something for them first?)

But notch it up to Adult Land, and there are a few toys getting big attention this holiday season. They are…

The Amazon Kindle – a portable book reader that’s easy on the eyes and connects directly to the Amazon store from anywhere. Check it out:

Some grief has risen up in the blogosphere about the Kindle because, while it allows access to blogs, it allows certain ones, and you have to pay for them.

And people seem to have already forgotten that there’s a very similar competitor also available, the Sony Reader, which connects — you guessed it — to the Sony store.

Both devices hold more reading material than I would get through in a year, both weigh less than your average hardcover, and neither supports color (my guess is that’s the next generation).

But if the Internet has made you too A.D.D. to read books anymore, you might be more interested in this toy:

The Chumby – Kind of a cross between a computer, a television, a stereo, a stress-relieving squeezeball, and a picture frame. Take a look at the intro video to get a feel for what I’m talking about:

If this is your dream toy, you’ll want to keep an eye on the widget factory over at Chumby.com.

(Oh, and Mom? Please don’t buy me any of these. They’re kinda silly and I really don’t need them. Thanks.)

I wish you all a very merry Buy Nothing Day, filled with lots of exercise and blogging.

Tags: ,

Translation: “It’s Not Going to Be What You Want it To Be”

  • generally
  • prospectively
  • in essence
  • ideally
  • basically
  • potentially
  • probably
  • technically
  • categorically
  • in theory
  • sort of

Translation: “It’s Not Going to Happen The Way You Want it to Happen”

  • straightforward
  • easy
  • automatically
  • at some point
  • ultimately
  • try

Translation: “Do it Yourself.”

  • That’d be great.

I commute to work on the MUNI (San Francisco’s municipal transit) and the BART (the bay area’s rapid transit), which means I see all the train station billboard ads. I have to admit, of all the ads I see in a day, these tend to be the best. And here’s a trend I’m seeing on the more successful ones: they include a new web address that starts with an action.

For example…

And the common threads…

  • With the exception of the first one on this list, you can’t always tell exactly what company is being advertised by looking at the URL.
  • The website is interactive and community-oriented.
  • The website is NOT the official company website.

And what are the benefits of this for the company?

  • There’s a good chance all the noun-based URLs they’d want to use are taken. Verbs are the next frontier.
  • By sending people to a campaign-specific website, they can monitor their campaign’s site traffic ROI without any confusion.
  • They’re being hip and sexy. Not everyone’s caught on to this strategy yet. The curious are going to check it out.

And what does this mean for the rest of us?

  • It’s okay to start using actions in your URLs. Starbucks is doing it. People will get it now.
  • Domain name opportunists may want to start looking into likely action-based URLs related to big companies. I misremembered “letsmeetatstarbucks” and instead tried meetmeatstarbucks.com . It took me to http://www.bixbymusic.com. Nice work, guys.
  • Billboard-to-web community-oriented marketing is being adapted with high visibility. Web 2.0 marketers, raise your rates!

Useful…

“People commit to a sale for three reasons, in this order: The first is chemistry — they have to like you. The second is your ability to solve their problem. The third is price.”

— Our Director of Strategy

Entertaining…

One of our clients turned to me at lunch and said, “You’re probably too young to remember the animated GIF, aren’t you?”

Chris Heuer recently blogged about a nifty idea — help me spread it around!He’s talking about a sales and marketing plan for people who are trying to sell software, conference tickets, or really anything else that has value to a broad spectrum of economic statuses (sidenote: I really want to say stati instead of statuses — would you still love me if i did?). Basically, the suggestion is to create a sponsorship program. For every software license you sell to a corporation, you give a free one to a nonprofit. For every successful businessman who buys a ticket to your conference, you give a free one to an independent artist or college student. The folks with the money could even choose their buddy recipient from a list of candidates. The benefits are clear:

  • The word and experience of your product spreads to a bigger audience (also remember: the underfunded demographic is sometimes the more creative and influential demographic).
  • As Chris points out, “some non-profits who really want the software in question would become evangelists, trying to find others who would also benefit from the software.”
  • You’re doing a service to the have-nots, which is noble in and of itself, and is also a selling point for your company’s public identity.

Tell a CEO about this strategy today!

Watch out everybody! Jenka is getting busy tearing down misconceptions about ad agencies and new marketing standards (and is doing a damned good job at it, too). Check out her recent article, “How Your Ad Agency is Sabotaging Your Campaign“. This woman is ruthless without being wrong, and makes point after point about what to look for. Here are the points I’m most concerned with:

‘User-generated content means audience engagement, message relevancy (if it’s not you’ll hear about it right away), authentic endorsement, and even the enablement of culture and identity expression. You should be excited. This is all pretty awesome stuff! But if consumers are making the “ads” for free, then how does the agency validate its cost? There’s a bit of a conflict of interest going on, for sure.’

Takeaway: Don’t poo-poo the free options out there. They are often more valuable than the paid options. You just have to approach them strategically. And that takes target audience research and knowledge of the mediums.

‘…if the audience isn’t getting involved then the traffic doesn’t mean all that much. ‘Engagement does. From click-thrus, to subscription rates, to form submissions, the measures of a campaign’s success are revealed through audience interaction patterns.’

Takeaway: Did you hear that? She said traffic doesn’t mean all that much. Stop bragging about your hit count and start bragging about your conversion rate and sign-ups. Get Google Analytics running on your site and spend a day learning what the reports mean. Don’t spend bags of money on pulling people into your website (SO easy to do) before you know what they’re likely to do there. Mass traffic doesn’t matter, quality traffic does.

‘Agencies … are so stuck in doing things the way they always have that their approach to new options is still, unfortunately, through the same old processes (uploading a TV spot to You-Tube, anyone?).’

Takeaway: I want to add to this point with something Jenka has emphasized before: some things are changing, others are not. The need to research your target audience, for example, is not going anywhere. How and where you reach that audience, on the other hand, is changing all over the place. And in such a rapidly changing time, you can’t afford to be making assumptions about any step in the marketing process. You have to step up, pay attention, see what’s working, and avoid what’s not. And the next time you do it, you need to assume that a whole bunch of things have changed yet again. Change, change, change, change, change!

1: It’s possible to blog anonymously. …plus 1: Blogs are increasingly useful sources of opinions and reviews, helping people to determine where to spend their money. …equals 2: Some businesses have discovered that they can blog anonymously as fake customers, saying wonderful things about themselves and increasing their business. It was bound to happen. Some people call it creative marketing. Some people call it evil. I call it a grey area in a set of new standards that are still being defined.A great example of this was the 2006 Wal-Marting Across America blog. Basically, a couple travelled across the U.S. staying in Wal-Mart parking lots and writing about how wonderful Wal-Mart is. It was a beautiful creation until word broke loose that Wal-Mart was secretly paying for the blog. The public, as you might imagine, got rather angry about the lack of disclosure. Now, if you go to the site, all you’ll see is a letter from the writers to their angry audience. I’m particularly fond of the line, “Even these personal attacks wonÂ’t sour my feelings about Wal-Mart.” The writers may be genuine Wal-Mart fans, but the fact that they didn’t disclose their corporate sponsorship is going unforgiven by the Internet at large. In Europe (but not the United States?), they’re passing laws that will subject businesses with false blogs to criminal prosecution. The laws will go into effect Dec 31. This also applies to fake reviews on Amazon.com and other review websites.Hint: Now might be a good time to tell your favorite under-handedly self-promoting business that they should knock this kind of behavior off for their own good.

In the last few weeks, there’s been a viral posting across liberal blogs on how to get free goods out of the Focus on Family website. Basically, Focus on Family is a right-wing conservative resource that has a donation-based online store. They sell DVDs, CDs, books, and other fun stuff. Some of it’s valuable to everyone — like the “Chronicles of Narnia” DVD. Some of it’s offensive propaganda, like “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.” But the things is, it’s donation-based. And if you offer to donate $0, they’ll still place the order. So instructions have been spreading across the liberal blogs on the web on how to “hit these guys where it hurts” and get free stuff in the process. Today I learned that they’re no longer accepting orders that have a $0 donation. And with the onslaught of $0 orders they’ve received in the last few weeks, I’m sure they’re going to disregard most, if not all of them, anyway. So who won?After stepping back to look at it, it seems like Focus on Family won. They now have thousands of links to their website from places that don’t even like them. And even more people have *visited* their website and explored it thoroughly. They’ve received tons of bad publicity, but it’s still publicity. Their search engine rankings will absolutely benefit from this situation.And you know, it kinda makes me wonder if they were behind it all along….

Seth Godin, my acclaimed marketing guru, just made an excellent point with an excellent analogy and based it on a falsehood. I had to wince. But it’s intriguing and worth discussing, so let’s throw it out on the table.

Five thousand years ago, every human was a hunter. If you were hungry, you got a rock or a stick and you went hunting.The problem was that all of the animals were either dead or really good at hiding.Fortunately, we discovered/invented the idea of farming. Plant seeds, fertilize em, water em, watch em grow and then you harvest them.The idea spread and it led to the birth of civilization.Everyone got the idea… except for marketers.Marketers still like to hunt.What we’re discovering, though, is that the good prospects are getting really good at hiding. —Seth’s Blog, 1/11/06

He makes a great underlying point: in order to succeed in marketing at a large scale, you need to create your own prospects. That’s poignant, creative, and true. He’s just got a little work to do on his logic. “The problem was that all of the animals were either dead or really good at hiding.” Sorry. Wrong answer. We didn’t go hungry in our hunter-gatherer days, nor did we kill off all of the animals in sight. There was always enough for what we expected of ourselves–modest population sizes in tight-knit tribes that took care of its members. There’s a lot to be said for the tribal lifestyle, not the least of which was its trust in and compassion for the land it lived on. We didn’t take more from the land than we needed, and we didn’t try to control our neighbors’ food supplies. The main difference between our hunter-gatherer days and our farming civilization days were size and settlement. When we took control of our own food, our population numbers exploded, and we no longer needed to keep moving around. With the added stability, we started putting time into other advancements, like technology that could make even more food, so we could have more people and make more advancements. And that’s still a great business model. To compare it again to marketing, we limit our success by allowing our prospects to be in control. If you can create and control prospects, your potential explodes. You can expand, you can dominate the market you want, and you can create more of what you love. It’s not that prospects are dead or hiding. It’s that they aren’t plentiful enough to meet your great ambitions, which, in the capitalist world, exceed the basic needs for livelihood. That’s just how the system works. But of all the analogies, Seth had to pick this one. What does it say about a happy ending? Yes, we’re in a “thriving civilization,” but we’re also becoming increasingly aware of the damage we’ve done to our land by dominating it. We need the land to survive, and yet we’re pumping it clean of resources and polluting its atmosphere. Our population exploded happily, but now we have more than 6 billion people. And although we have enough food for all our people, we distribute it unevenly in the name of commerce–the system that brought us to where we are–and many starve. And those who have plenty of food take it for granted, and don’t understand what a gift it is to have it. Our explosion has been self-destructive, and we are only just beginning to feel its consequences.While I realize this is a bleak perspective on the analogy, I think it brings up some important questions. What are the consequences of creating and controlling your marketing prospects? What damage does it do those people, whom you rely on for your livelihood? How much success can you handle while still taking care of what matters most to you? And how will it imbalance the systems around you? Generally, I’m gung-ho about marketing and idea viruses, but only when they’re done ethically. The concept of growing your own prospects opens a can of worms for abuse and loss of control. We see it most disturbingly in teen marketing, where the industries feed a cycle of “cool” that pushes teens toward more and more extreme behavior. Young minds are malleable, and the marketers plant whatever seeds they want to see grow there. Marketers have more influence over the upcoming generations than parents do. Is that a good thing?Where do you draw the line?

As my friend Jeremiah recently pointed out, Abercrombie & Fitch has hit a new low in setting trends among high school students. Take a look at their new line of Men’s Sexual Appeal Tees. These $30 tight “muscle cut” tees sport such slogans as:SPITTERS ARE QUITTERSBAGHDAD ASS UPWILL SPOON FOR POONYOU BLOW, I’LL POPEATIN AIN’T CHEATINTHIRD BASE COACHJeremiah writes:

THINK about what these slogans, even taken as ironic or sarcastic, slowly instill into our acceptable social identity.

He makes a good point. We’re being systematically desensitized to offensive and stereotyping concepts and this is just another kick in that direction. But is it Abercrombie’s fault?I think this is a perfect example of the “who went here first — the teens or the corporations?” debate. The PBS documentary, Merchants of Cool presents it perfectly (you should check it out). Critics blame corporations for corrupting our youth. Corporations claim they’re just offering up what the youth want. The youth, in turn, claim the corporations “don’t get them,” and use their products as a jumping off point to make their “coolness” even more extreme. Corporations counter by jumping forward and marketing the next taboo subculture (to the point of killing its “coolness,” at which point the youth need to jump further ahead again).You can blame whomever you want, but we’re in a vicious cycle of each one trying to outdo the other. There is no end in sight.