Friday, April 4, 2008

Short Takes: 4.4.08

Here are some interesting XM and online marketing news items and links for your perusal:
  • An Absolut World is global! I've enjoyed the "In an Absolut World" campaign, which has featured some eye- and attention-catching concepts, such as protesters and police attacking each other with pillows. Their campaign has been creative and inclusive--but a Mexican ad agency missed the inclusive part, which highlights the challenges of branding and advertising in a global world. Time was a brand could say one thing in one country and a different thing somewhere else, but no more. The new ad, which shows a map with a third of the US annexed to Mexico "In an Absolut World," is causing a stir. Politics and national identity aside, the ad is stupid and inconsistent with the Absolut campaign--instead of portraying a world without divisions, it creates them. (BTW, for a terrific view in an Absolut world and a great microsite, check out

  • Dot-Bomb all over again: If you've been involved with digital media since the 90s, I am sure you have fond memories of the dot-bomb era of 1999 to 2001. Is it about to happen all over again? Red Envelope, among the most well known of e-commerce site, is rumored to be shutting down shortly. The upscale online retailer lost their line of credit and is seeking buyers, but their SEC filing says they don't know if one can be found in time. It's hard to know what to make of this; certainly ecommerce is huge with many sites making money. What was Red Envelope's problem? Was it cost containment? Leadership? Brand? As the chips fall, I'll be watching for news and insights on how a once mighty online retailer failed.

  • Media Fracturing a Little More: Remember how simple TV was back in the day? You had your fuzzy local UHF and your three to five VHF channels. (And if you even know what those acronyms are, you're as old as I am.) But today, everyone's a content producer online and even big companies are getting into the came. According to Adweek, Microsoft is going all Hollywood, having unveiled an ambitious slate of original programming created for its multiple Web platforms, including the MSN portal, and Xbox Live. Their hope is to begin to draw more viewers and more media dollars way from TV. Toward this end, the software giant is producing new shows such as In Need of Repair, a male-aimed home improvement show featuring a pair of sophomoric, mostly inept hosts; Seven Secrets About..., a light look at the secrets of pop culture icons such as Justin Timberlake; and What on Earth Is Going On?, a channel/series aimed at raising social consciousness. Will Redmond be the next Hollywood? (Probably not, but it is fun to ask.)

  • Can Social Media Go Too Far? I was bothered by the new My Starbucks Idea site for reasons I couldn't quite put my finger on. An article from Harvard Business Online helped me figure it out. Starbucks doesn't just ask for ideas but permits visitors to see and vote on the ideas. The top ideas on Starbucks' idea site all involve discounts, which begs the question if it's asking too much for customers to think about the brand and not themselves. For instance, some years ago, Starbucks started featuring music by indie artists and offering their CDs for sale. It was a great match of brand and a new revenue stream, but I suspect if the company had asked for customer input, they might not have gotten much support. (I can imagine the feedback running along the lines of "Give me more discounts; don't try to sell me stuff I can get on iTunes.") Asking customers for ideas and feedback is the mark of a great brand, but asking them for business ideas and then turning this into a form of transparent social media could actually backfire. What happens if Starbucks customers vote for discounts but the company decides not to act on that idea?

  • Parties as Marketing: I am undecided on this technique to build Word of Mouth (WOM). Brands are turning to House Party, a company that helps to encourage brand-themed parties in homes across the nation. The New York Times has an article about one such party program, Ford's Big Drive. The idea is to encourage Ford owners to throw parties where guests can experience the brand in some way. Are people really going to walk their guests to their garages, ask them to sit in their cars, and give them test drives? That seems unlikely, but this much is clear, the combination of Oprah's Big Give with the Ford Big Drive House Party promotion is capturing some hearts. Ten parties will win the opportunity to give away a Ford to the needy, and people are stoked. Says one poster to the site, "I could never afford to give on this scale! I just want to cry when I think of the opportunity that we've been given!" Still, the bottom line is whether sponsoring branded house parties actually works to create WOM or achieve other marketing goals; the House Party site makes promises but cites no research or results.

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