Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Facebook Faces Up to Hate

Facebook has finally, under pressure, amended its policy on hate. As the company's officials admit, it's not easy to find the right balance between facilitating personal expression and outlawing unacceptable content on a site with a billion users:
"We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial. We define harmful content as anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying)."
Activists and users had complained that the social media giant was moving too slowly and not doing enough to remove gender-based hate content--specifically, comments and images that depict violence against women. More than 50,000 tweets about this issue added to the pressure on Facebook in the week leading up to the company's announcement of its policy change.

In addition, a few advertisers such as the Japanese automaker Nissan and the UK financial services firm Nationwide went so far as to drop their Facebook ad campaigns because of this issue, and took the next step by apologizing to their customers. Most, if not all, quickly reinstated their ads once Facebook faced up to the need for policy changes.

Now Facebook's users and advertisers will be watching to see how these changes are implemented and how transparent the social media giant's workings will be during this time of intense public scrutiny. Remember, Facebook is still trying to find its stride as a powerful, targeted medium for advertising. To build ad revenues, it must be a responsible medium, not just a popular medium.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Top Global Brand, by Value: Apple

 According to the 2013 BrandZ rankings, Apple is by far the most valuable brand on the planet this year, as it was last year.

In order, the top 10 most valuable global brands are:

  1. Apple
  2. Google
  3. IBM
  4. McDonald's
  5. Coca-Cola
  6. AT&T
  7. Microsoft
  8. Visa
  9. Marlboro
  10. China Mobile
MillwardBrown lists these "takeaways" from the 2013 ranking:
  • Stand for a higher purpose and be meaningfully different from competitors.
  • Multitask like your customers, adapt to changing needs, and make good quality even better.
  • Communicate-be transparent-be inspirational.
  • Invest in the brand for future growth.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Outlet Mall Markets Status Brands at a Discount

Trust me, Woodbury Common rarely looks this empty
One of the busiest outlet malls in the United States is about to get a much-needed update. Woodbury Common, in Central Valley, NY, attracts 13 million visitors each year. It's known around the world for featuring luxury brands at lower-than-retail prices. Busloads of shoppers from across the continent and across the oceans travel hours to get to this outlet mall because its 200+ stores showcase products from many top brands in fashion retailing: Armani, Balenciaga, Burberry, Chloe, Coach, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Michael Kors, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada, and many more.

Even early on a weekday morning, this outlet mall is crowded with bargain-hunters eager to snap up status brands at a discount. And no matter what the foreign exchange situation between the dollar and the pound sterling, the yen, or the euro, travelers from abroad descend on Woodbury Common, buy buy buy, and pack their purchases into new (status) suitcases bought at the outlet, too. 

A lot of business comes from word of mouth and from media coverage of the mall as a major shopping/tourist destination. Social media are also helping to spread the word. Woodbury Common's parent, Simon Realty, maintains a Premium Outlets Facebook page (with nearly 200,000 likes) and a Premium Outlets Twitter account (with 55,000 followers). Surprisingly, no Pinterest or Flickr or YouTube account for this super-popular shopping destination. On the other hand, each outlet does its own marketing in addition to the mall's marketing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Marketing Caffeine-Enriched Foods and Drinks

The regulatory and legislative environment for caffeine-enriched foods and beverages is evolving because of health concerns. Many such products are marketed through sponsorships of extreme sports and other activities that appeal to Millennials and other consumer segments. (Extreme Sport Beans, for instance, aren't snacks, they're designed as a caffeine jolt for endurance athletes.)

But the possibility that kids, in particular, will be attracted to extra-caffeinated foods/drinks through marketing (advertising, package/label design, image, brand associations, etc.) is a growing problem. Two weeks ago, Wrigley decided to temporarily stop making its newly-launched Alert Energy Caffeine Gum after FDA regulators raised serious safety concerns about the effect on kids, adolescents, and adults. As the product photo shows, one piece delivers the caffeine equivalent of half a cup of "high test" (non-decaf) coffee.

Wrigley's president told reporters: "After discussions with the FDA, we have a greater appreciation for its concern about the proliferation of caffeine in the nation's food supply. There is a need for changes in the regulatory framework to better guide the consumers and the industry about the appropriate level and use of caffeinated products."

Wrigley is not alone in facing this changing marketing environment for extra-caffeine foods and beverages. Monster Beverage, which makes energy drinks containing caffeine, is battling San Francisco in court over allegations of marketing to youngsters, which Monster denies. Other jurisdictions, including Chicago and New York's Suffolk County, are considering how to deal with the potential marketing of caffeine-enriched foods and drinks to minors. Australia has even gone so far as to prevent the importation of caffeinated Dr Pepper and other non-cola, non-energy drinks that contain caffeine. The social-cultural environment, as a result, is also a factor. 

In the face of caffeinated foods like Wired Waffles and Cracker Jack'd Power Bites, the FDA is now rethinking how it regulates added-caffeine foods/drinks following dozens of reports about adverse reactions possibly linked to ingestion of energy "shots" and other super-caffeinated products.

Meanwhile, Consumer Reports has tested commonly-available energy drinks, listed the level of caffeine in each, explained the health concerns, and sums things up this way: "An occasional energy drink is probably fine for most adults." Adults, not kids.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Rock Stars of Children's Book Week

May 13-19 is Children's Book Week this year, administered by the nonprofit Every Child a Reader Foundation with anchor sponsorship by the Children's Book Council. Of course social media marketing hasn't been around quite as long as this annual event, which started way back in 1919, but it is a good tool to promote reading by and to kids.

See the Children's Book Council's Twitter account, for instance, with 7600+ followers, and its Facebook account, with 5400+ likes. Or check out its Pinterest page, especially the page featuring posters promoting this book week event through the years.

My town just hosted two days of talks and book signings featuring some of the biggest rock stars in the world of children's book authors and illustrators.

Children of all ages arrived with backpacks full of their favorite books and were starry-eyed as they chatted with the creators of many unforgettable characters. We adults enjoyed hearing behind-the-scenes stories of what goes into the making of a children's book.

Just a few of the nice folks who were on hand to give talks and sign books were:

Robin Preiss Glasser and Jane O'Connor, shown above, who collaborate on the super-popular Fancy Nancy series.

Bryan Collier, shown at right, who has won the prestigious Caldecott Medal and many other honors for his wonderful work.

Thank you! And keep reading.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Marketing Lightbulb Goes On

The incandescent lightbulb (you know, the old-fashioned type invented by Thomas Edison) is far from dead.

It's true, some older-tech bulbs are no longer on store shelves (or won't be there for long) because governmental regulations now require lightbulbs to meet drastically higher efficiency standards.

But the good news is that 21st century lightbulbs are greener and more affordable than ever. Or as Time magazine says: "Long Live the Lightbulb." For example:
  • Advanced Lighting Technologies markets the Vybrant 2x, an incandescent bulb that's more energy-efficient and lasts twice as long as old bulbs.
  • Cree makes LED bulbs (endorsed by NASCAR star Richard Petty) designed to burn brightly for thousands of hours at a low cost. Cree connects with consumers on FB of course.
  • Energy Star ratings help consumers know which bulbs meet the EPA's standards for energy efficiency.
Interestingly, some consumers may choose to avoid these newer lightbulbs when the products are marketed with a "good for the environment" message. Why? Research shows that the issue of carbon emissions is a politically polarizing one. Another possible explanation for why consumers don't choose green lightbulbs may be their perceptions of the burnt-out bulbs being difficult to recycle. No wonder marketers need to understand the marketing environment and study consumer behavior before deciding on a message.

By the way, here's a site with ideas about how to safely dispose of CFLs and other alternatives to traditional incandescent bulbs.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fortune 500 Page Count, 1998-2013 (Hint: The Economy Is Improving!)

Using the annual Fortune 500 issue as a bellweather, it's clear the US economy is not only on the rise, it's doing much better than it has since 2009. The higher the page count, the more ads this Fortune magazine edition is carrying. This year represents a 40-page increase from last year's size, the most significant increase in some years.

The biggest year of the dot-com boom was also by far the peak for this issue's page count, at least for the period 1998-2013.

2013: 352
2012: 312
2011: 316
2010: 308
2009: 276
2008: 356
2007: 386
2006: 384
2005: 410
2004: 478
2003: 410
2002: 402
2001: 474
2000: 630 - Pinnacle of dot-com boom!
1999: 510
1998: 506

And just for the record, here are the top 5 companies in the top 500 for 2013:

1. Walmart
2. Exxon-Mobil
3. Chevron
4. Phillips 66
5. Berkshire-Hathaway (yes, Warren Buffett's outfit)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Coinstar's Star Studio Updates Photo Kiosks

My local mall has a new kiosk: Coinstar's Star Studio, which updates the old photo booth idea by providing opportunities to snap individual/group photos and jazz 'em for uploading onto Facebook. As the photo below shows, you step into the booth and select a background, smile for the photo, add decorations, and click to share on Facebook.

According to a 2012 article in the Seattle Times, this is one of several new kiosk ideas being piloted by Coinstar, best known for its coin-counters and its RedBox DVD/vid game kiosks. Here's the Seattle Times summary of Star Studio's marketing:

Target audience: Girls 7 to 17.
Projected sales: $30,000 to $35,000 per booth a year.
Prices: $6 to $12, depending on the number of prints requested.
Biggest surprise: Flattering lights, stereo surround sound, and fun photo backdrops.

Star Studio is on Twitter (just under 2,000 followers) and Facebook (just under 3,000 likes). It invites followers to vote on which photo backgrounds to add or bring back. As a novelty, it's fun. But I wonder how many teens will use Star Studio regularly, which is a must to build revenues and profitability.

By the way, Coinstar is planning to change its corporate name to Outerwall, reflecting its expansion beyond coin counting and into other automated retail concepts.

For an update on Star Studio, see my blog post here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Snail Mail and Social Media Help Find Missing Kids

For National Missing Children’s Month, the nonprofit Missing Children's Network has teamed up with Toronto ad agency Lowe Roche to help Canadians create custom postage stamps featuring missing kids.

The hope is that someone will contact authorities if they recognize a child shown on the stamp.

It all starts at the campaign's website where consumers can browse the photos of missing kids and click to print one on customized stamps. My fingers are crossed that some child, somewhere, will be reunited with his or her family after this campaign kicks off.

The U.S. Postal Service has supported a similar mission by distributing photos of missing children to its employees and partnering with Valassis to deliver promo materials that include photos of missing kids. Nearly 150 children have been recovered thanks to this national snail-mail effort.

Back in 2006, the USPS also issued an Amber Alert stamp to publicize efforts to locate children who have been abducted and return them to their families.

Of course, Amber Alert has its own Facebook page with more than 100,000 likes and updates about the program nationwide and state by state. Check it out!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Green Dream Machine

Visiting Texas A&M last week, I passed one of several big blue PepsiCo Promise Dream Machines on campus--kiosks designed to encourage recycling of bottles and cans while simultaneously educating and rewarding green behavior.

The idea is that students and faculty will use this recycling kiosk and instantly see how they're helping the environment.

Plus they accumulate points that can be redeemed for stuff. And for each item recycled, Pepsi donates money to help disabled veterans.

A couple of years ago, when a Fast Company editor looked at the Dream Machine strategy, she was skeptical that the rewards (Blockbuster discounts, for example!) would really motivate behavioral change. Her idea: "What if, when you recycled a can, you got a random cash reward, up to five bucks or so?" Good point.

Sustainability is a hot topic of social media conversation, to be sure. The Dream Machine Facebook page has attracted 14,700 likes and was busy on Earth Day this year. 

Although PepsiCo has a number of sustainability initiatives underway, the Dream Machine is attracting users--so many, in fact, that PepsiCo recently donated $500,000 to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, bringing its total contributions to $1.5 million over three years.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why Scents Make Sense for Marketing

Time magazine recently looked at "why smell is the next frontier for gadgets." It listed initiatives aimed at bringing the delivery of aromas into everyday experiences. Two examples:
  • ChatPerf makes a mobile phone device called the Scentee that emits scents based on what the sender of a message wants the recipient holding the phone to smell. "ChatPerf" combines the idea of chatting (via cell phone) and perfume. Will be available in Japan starting this summer.
  • ScentAir is a company that will put specific scents into the air in targeted places for marketing purposes. In March, ScentAir put cotton candy aroma into the air during a St. Louis Rams game, to “create a positive first impression for fans when they first walk into the stadium and we trigger their senses,” according to the Rams' VP-marketing. It has also created scents for "guess that spice" displays to market McCormick spices.
Academic research shows that ambient scents can enhance customer experiences in various situations, such as in dance clubs. Ambient scents can also heighten brand differentiation in a retail situation. This is why Abercrombie & Fitch pumps its signature Fierce aroma into the air around its stores.

Hotels are making sense of scents: The Darling hotel in Sydney (at left) uses citrus tea scent to enhance its luxury positioning. According to an expert, "Most hotels are spending about $250 to $500 a month to scent their lobby."