My blog is about exchanging ideas and best practices on all things marketing and communications related. I'm interested in your thoughts, feedback, additions, arguments and point of view.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The 50-plus set - not as old as you think.

Being marketers, we’re constantly training our eyes on what’s next – new technologies affecting how to reach and interact with consumers. In recent times, there’s been lots of attention focused on the 15 – 24 year olds, the gadget savvy, text messaging set we call the ‘Millennials.’ Mostly due to their sheer size – around 80 million strong in North America, we’ve been watching and analyzing their every move, figuring out new ways to engage them with a 2 inch mobile phone screen. Today though, they don’t have high earning power yet, as many are still paying off student loans and getting their careers going. In fact, Millennials in some ways are an audience that holds promise but isn’t ready for prime time.

However one group emerging as an online powerhouse – wealthy, engaged, connected and spending big in travel, finance and electronics, you have to look no further than the heads of many households in Canada, according to ComScore Media Metrix and Statistics Canada. Say hello to mom and dad - the 50+ set!

It’s easy to overlook the influence older Canadians have on our economy, given our obsession with youth culture. Canada’s digital media universe increased 1 million to 23 million users in June 2007 compared to last year, according to ComScore Media Metrix Canada, with a large portion of growth coming from Canadians aged 50 or older. In fact, the average Canuck spends close to 43 hours a month online, burning through 4,000 page views – more than any other country in the world. And older Canadians use web services such as online banking at a higher percentage rate than Americans do.

What makes the 50+ target group such an attractive demographic for an advertiser isn’t just their size, although that is part of the reason as boomers account for almost a quarter of the entire population. It’s their spending power.

According to Statistics Canada, households with at least one member age 55 or older spent 71% of their incomes on discretionary purchases – or $144 billion annually, and are expected to grow to more than $215 billion in 10 years. Granted, older Canadians account for a relatively small portion of the total online universe (around 7%), but consider these recent insights on web usage from Ipsos Reid:

71% of 50-plus Canadians with home access to the web have a high speed connection and spend an average of 8.7 hours per week online.

50-plus Canadians spend a large portion of their online time on research type activities such as trip planning (47%), product purchases (40%) and comparison shopping (37%).

29+ of Canadians aged 50+ visited a social networking site in May 2006 compared to 8% in September 2006. This is mostly due to the influence of their children, using Face Book and the like to reconnect with friends and old acquaintances.

The 50-plus Canadian consumer represents a large, diverse and growing segment of the online population. They like to comparison shop, need convenience purchases, shop for quality and most importantly have the time to spend looking for what they need.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Are Retailers taking back "Christmas?"

Back in the summer months, marketing folks across the country were busily planning the end of year retail season and asking a question to each other and their agencies– are we wishing a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to customers this year? According to a survey by Rasmussen Reports this year, retailers shouldn't be shy about wishing customers a "Merry Christmas" after all.

And this public sentiment seems to be filtering into our seasonal messaging. So far this year, I’ve noticed the word Christmas being used more frequently in advertising, most notably in ads by Leon’s Canadian Tire, and Staples (in the background music anyway). Is it just me, or are we returing to the more traditional interpretation of December 25th?

Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, said the "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays" debate has been around for a few years now. After asking 1,000 adults in mid-November which they preferred, they found that 67 percent of adults prefer the Christmas-specific greeting in seasonal advertising, while only 26 percent want to see "Happy Holidays."

Examples of US retailers from seasons past who opted for the more secular term come to mind. In 2005, Target stores ditched the use of the word “Christmas” in their advertising materials, but then decided to resume using it after an immense public outcry. Also in 2005, Wal-Mart forbade its employees from wishing customers “Merry Christmas,” opting for the more generic holiday terms. That decision was protested by religious groups including the Catholic League, which boycotted the retail giant. Wal-Mart announced during the following season that it would return to using the word “Christmas.”

Regardless of what term we prefer, it's the idea of Christmas that should matter the most to Canadians, so who cares what we call it?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Radiohead - Seeing Rainbows...

According to Nielsen SoundScan, retail sales of CDs in the US have fallen by 20% in 2007. Eighty-nine million CDs were sold in the first three months of this year compared with 112 million during the same period in 2006. Even the growth of digital music downloads failed to pick up the slack, with overall album sales dropping 10%. (SoundScan counts every 10 downloads as a "digital album.")

By contrast, individual song downloads are up 20% from the same period last year, to a record 288 million. Customers are exercising control over their media experience - cherry picking songs rather than downloading entire albums and being stuck with tunes that end up dragged directly to the recycle bin.

Singing the blues.
Arguably more than any other, the Music industry has been suffering from technology’s affect on their business model. From a splintering audience, increasingly complex distribution channels, free downloads, and reinterpretations and challenges of existing copyright law, music companies are frequently cut out of the transaction when music is swapped and traded. And some would say the industry has been slow to address this rapidly changing marketplace.

When heavy metal band Metallica heard a demo of their song “I Disappear,” circulating across Napster, even before it was released, the band quickly launched a lawsuit in 2000. The band won, Napster filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002 and was later acquired by Roxio, but the existing distribution channels and copyright laws were forever changed.

That’s why I listened closely to a promotion by the band Radiohead to promote their new record, “In Rainbows.” An industry first for a band this size, they allowed people to set their own price for downloading it – from $0 to the sky’s the limit. People could pay whatever they thought it was worth. And Radiohead would watch to see what happened.

Why Radiohead?
Radiohead seemed to be the best case to test a ‘pay-what-you-can” approach. They have a large, loyal audience composed of educated, sophisticated listeners, the sort who may actually care a bit about the issue of how artists are compensated. Plus a reader survey in the British music magazine New Music Express asked fans how much they would pay – most said an average of $10. Not scientific but anecdotally it confirmed what they were already thinking.

Results so far.
According to ComScore, of the 1.2 million visitors to Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” website between October 1-29, 62% of customers who downloaded the album did so without paying – and 17% spent $4 or less. On a happier note, many of the payers, about 12%, paid between $8 and $12 per copy. This translated to an average $2.26 per download. Not great results if revenue is the only metric.

Interestingly, other music research done in this pay-what-you-can approach suggests fans are much more likely to pay less money for music from mega rich artists like J-Lo, Gwen, and Justin. They won’t miss it, right?

Lesson Learned - again.

For me, the Radiohead “pay-what-you-want” promotion succeeded in many ways if you look beyond just the money.

First, the approach generated millions of dollars in media coverage, far more than the label would probably have spent on promotion.

Second, the distribution model was less costly, meaning better gross margins with more money ending up in the band's pocket.

Third, in this age of digital downloads, trying new approaches and challenging old ones, the golden rule of marketing still applies - 20% of the band's customers generated 80% of the revenues.

Now that's a classic tune worth sharing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Be a Twitter

...i'm hung over from the CMA's last night...(send)
... it’s warm in my bed...(send)
...i think i need new batteries for my camera...(send)
...I just paid my hydro bill. (send) it ok to eat yoghurt after the sell by date?...(send)

No I haven't cut and pasted sentences from various emails into one incoherent paragraph, nor am I playing a thought association game. I'm demonstrating the art of Twitter. The New York Times calls it, "one of the fastest-growing phenomena on the Internet." TIME Magazine says, "Twitter is on its way to becoming the next killer app," and Newsweek noted that "Suddenly, it seems as though all the world's a-twitter."

Welcome to the art of Twitter - living in the moment and staying connected, Millennial style.

A new toy for the tech savvy Millennial.
Those of you following trends created by the current 'it' group of society, Millennials, you’ll know that when these guys do something en masse, marketing people tend to notice - even if it doesn’t amount to much. Millennials number around 90 million strong in North America, and include people born between 1980 and 1995. They’re also the most coddled, preened and fussed over generation in memory, raised by dotting parents who told them they were special every chance they could (or at least left them voice mails to that effect).

Millennials are also the most connected, tech savvy, gadget owning group in history, and have a strong emotional need to stay connected with friends and family. Twitter could only make sense to this generation.

Creating a running life narrative.
Twitter began as a research and development project inside Odeo, Inc. by Noah Glass and Jack Dorsey, and debuted in March 2006. Also called micro blogging, it’s based around a simple idea – what R U doing right now? In 140 characters or less, users send text messages or “Twitter” at regular intervals to a pre-screened list of friends about the events in their daily life, from the mundane to the magnificent.

“It’s like creating a running narrative about our lives,” says Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Blogger. “In the beginning, bloggers were viewed with disdain (do they think their lives are so important to write about?), but as it moved mainstream, writing about oneself on My Space and Face Book became the norm. People are reacting in a similar way to Twitter, (do they think their lives are so important?) What we’re creating is an ambient intimacy with our network of friends that’s real, readable, and then gone.”

It’s the paradox of the Millennials’ need to feel close and connected to others, but at arm’s length that makes Twitter intriguing. It’s an easy, non committal way to keep tabs and staying emotionally close to our friends with low effort, risk and intrusion.

Next Steps.
Setting up a twitter account is easy and takes a few minutes -
And there’s a handy Twitter guide that answers your questions.
The product team at Twitter is focussed on building a large following of users...with business models and revenue opportunities to follow. A Millennial said it best – “Some people may say that I think narrating my own life is crazy.... but for my own selfish reasons, it’s fairly natural to me.”

And said in 140 characters or less (136 to be exact).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fresh Salad anyone?

This is a great outdoor billboard by MickeyD's... Sixteen varieties of actively growing lettuce are in the billboard (iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, baby red romaine, baby green romaine, baby red leaf, baby green leaf, baby red swiss chard, baby red oak, baby green oak, lolla rosa, tango, tatsoi, arugula, mizuna, radiccio, frisee) and are arranged to spell out "Fresh Salads." "These greens were planted on a vertical wall garden system.

The board was hand painted and textured to match soil underneath the plants. The individual plants were germinated from seed in a greenhouse and installed as seedlings onto the board" the creative team says in an E-mail. "None of us have had any experience working with horticulturists or anything even close (in fact, not one of us has even a remotely green thumb). We wanted to work with someone who was an expert in this area and we were lucky enough to find Greg Pierceall of the University of Illinois."

Since the introduction of McDonald's Premium Salads in the U.S. in 2003, the fast food company claims to have sold over 486 million salads, placing them in the upper echelon of greens distributors in the U.S. It has been recorded that annually, McDonald's uses 80 million pounds of Spring Mix lettuce and an additional 100 million pounds of green leaf lettuce and iceberg lettuce on its sandwiches, 30 million pounds of tomatoes, 6.5 million pounds of grapes and 4.2 million pounds of walnuts. And that's not including their billboards, which have been highly supported by neighboring McDonald's franchise owner, Ernie Cochanis.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Give your Creative Director a hug...

As we head into mid – November, the 2007 awards season is in full swing. Last month was the DMAs. Last week saw the CASSIES and Media Innovation awards. This week it's the "black tie" Canadian Marketing Awards.

If you think awards shows are a self-congratulatory love in, designed for the winners to slap themselves on the back and hug their creative team, you're missing the bigger picture. Yes, the shows are no doubt a party - part celebration and part reflection. However the best award shows fill an important role in our industry – to learn from best and brightest in marketing about what campaigns succeeded in breaking through the clutter and connecting with Canadians. And, as much as we can, understand why they succeeded so well.

It's a great feeling for marketing and advertising teams to be singled out for producing programs that achieved results. Being client side, I tend to measure campaign results first by increases in revenues or share points. Creatives, on the other hand, first tend to look at production values, emotional impact or how memorable their message was with its audience.

Naturally, there's tension that's created by looking at the same challenge from different perspectives. That's why in my opinion, a show needs to recognize both viewpoints in order to identify outstanding work.

Despite all the great work that has been, or about to be recognized this year, there's one category that consistently impresses by delivering focused and clear messaging that rarely fails to impress. I'm talking PSAs. If you asked me to name just three PSA campaigns that were standouts for me, I could easily remember six.

The Sick Kids “Believe” campaign featured children and babies fighting off the evils of cancer and disease, but only with our help (of course). Produced by JWT, it succeeded in generating $79 million in fiscal 2007.

The TV spots and amazing website by Youthography, are in my opinion excellent examples of work that speaks directly to young people, not down to them. The list continues - Flick Off, United Way, Canadian Blood Services, work by DDB Canada, and my newest favourite PSA campaign by Participaction.

Even though in most cases, we’re being asked to open our wallets, we can’t help but listen intently and be moved by what is being said. Why is this work so powerful, so memorable? I have my theories....

1. Is it that the PSA message, almost always emotional and empathetic, taps into our humanity far more profoundly than the benefits of XYZ detergent ever could?

2. Is it that the work is done pro bono by an agency, so clients are more hands off, less meddlesome in the creative and copy writing process, so the essence of the idea isn't harmed?

3. Are PSA marketing briefs better written? Less muddy and more clear and concise, with objectives and approaches clearly laid out?

It's worth thinking about why so much PSAs end up winning awards every year. It's the best for specific reasons, not simply by chance. Perhaps the reason agencies clamour to work on PSA campaigns is for a chance to flex their creative muscles with the least amount of intrusion, and show the depth and power of their abilities. Persuasion at its purest and most powerful.

At this year's CMAs, creative now accounts for more of the judges' score. The new breakdown: 40% Results, 40% Creative and 20% Production. Show producers are promising a celebration of the science and the art of marketing – Results-driven as always, passionate about great creative work like never before.

Regardless of who and what is recognized, industry award shows raise the bar for creative and marketing innovation in Canada. So if you happen to be one of the lucky recipients of an award this year, make sure you give your creative director a big hug to show that you care.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Making Silence.

James Katz is my hero.... Recently he was quoted as saying, "If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people. The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights."

This article from the New York Times, talked about a new technology that jams cell phone transmissions - cutting off that annoying person beside you who is giving suggestions on the right type of wine to buy for breaking up with her, like boyfriend. Sweet, but wrong.