Monday, February 07, 2005

"Those Who Ignore History are Destined to Repeat It" Applies to Marketing Too

One of the great lessons of the dot com era was that you can’t buy your way into a successful brand with mere dollars and awareness. After all, awareness doesn’t equal preference or sales. Those who attempted to “build their brand at breakneck speed” only ended up breaking their brand’s neck. Great brands are not built from ad dollars, although there are always marketing and advertising professionals that will attempt to lead a client or employer down this path. And while Super Bowl spots can be a good fit for automotive manufacturers, job sites and beer companies whose products appeal to a wide audience, these spots can provide immense waste circulation when you are selling more specialized and technical products or services.

One notable dot com that disagrees with these lessons and was willing to put around 5% of its annual sales into two Super Bowl commercials (production and airtime) is

In an earlier post to Marketing Today Blog, I praised Bob Parsons, the CEO of this dot com, for making a significant donation to a Tsunami relief fund. After learning Bob was going to spend the majority of his promotional budget on a Super Bowl, I, along with a good deal of other marketers, couldn’t help but offer Bob some advice. Specifically, rethink the spend. These dollars could be more effectively spent elsewhere. Great brands are built on more than advertising. Consider Starbucks, who built a great brand without much advertising, and consider the dot com failures who often used a great deal of advertising.

Advertising doesn’t have the same power it once did, and even then, that power was often greatly exaggerated. I also mentioned that just by advertising during the Super Bowl, faced negative comparison’s to dot bombs and the media was likely to seize that connection, even if Bob’s company is financially strong. Bob saw it differently. In fact, he went on to purchase a second Super Bowl ad running the same spot again, which Fox ended up pulling as the NFL deemed it offensive.

I believe this is GoDaddy,com’s first time using television advertising and it shows. Their commercial takes a jab at US government media censorship, specifically at last year’s Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction incident. Now this could have been funny. However, the script and execution are crude and the production was low quality. All in all, I, and many others found's commercials to be in very poor taste (the one that Fox refused and the one they aired). They are sexist and have a strong power to offend. Which has ended up being an even bigger part of the problem of the ad spend. (Judge for yourself, here's a link:

Even those that like the ad -- mainly men who like to see large breasted women paraded as sex objects -- often can't recall what does. It gets worse, it turns out the girl's background includes porn. Even as it becomes one of the most Tivoed ads of the Super Bowl, I think it is doing some serious brand damage to what should have been its target audience. After all, when you are selling legitimate business services, do you really want to tie your brand's reputation to a porn star?

At best, for a brand where it is an appropriate vehicle, buying airtime for a Super Bowl commercial could be looked at and leveraged for the enormous publicity potential alone. But in’s case, I think they blew it and then did even more damage by creating an ad that many people find offensive. Despite the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity (a statement that refers to celebrities more than corporate brands), there is. Just ask Enron, Arthur Andersen, Worldcom, Tyco and Firestone, for some extreme examples.

The best Super Bowl commercials are usually for brands that can be purchased by the general public, have compelling creative that gets the message of what a company is selling and what is different about that product or service and are "water cooler" worthy. Certainly, you want your commercial to stand out. But, while’s commercial was water-cooler worthy, it wasn't wrapped around the product. The controversy was wrapped around what did in the commercial. It is very unlikely that many of the water cooler conversations involved's actual product.

Just sample the media’s response. As one advertising commentator put it, the commercial was ineffective because it polarized the audience. The NY Post wrote. “Trashy vamp testifying before uptight censorship committee is an old idea, which is okay, except does anyone have a clue what is?” The Arizona Republic, “But who remembers what even is?” The Ledger’s five person panel of advertising professionals all agreed that the ad was disgusting and described the ad using the terms, “sleazy,” “tasteless,” and “degrading.” One panelist went on to state, “By the time it was over, I wasn't sure what it was for." Adweek wrote: “ Are they kidding? This was so pre-dot combust. Been there before. I thought we were over this. I don't know what they do.” USA Today reported members of a panel watching the Super Bowl ads were offending, with one member stating, ""It was degrading, almost." Perhaps's Martin Wolk may have hit the nail on the head when he wrote, "
Not everyone got the memo about good taste. An ad for smacked of a vanity project with its sly reference to the name of the Internet company’s president and sole owner." Even Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield, who actually liked the ad, acknowledged, "Sure, it's blatantly sexist and juvenile..."

In the end, most of's 15 minutes of fame as the result of this single commercial will be spent on the controversial and offensive nature of the commercial, not on selling or creating preference for the company's services. In the end, even after the conversations, people will not have a good awareness of what sells and business people in the target audience for's services may feel uncomfortable with a brand that presents itself in a manner they find amusing, but is less than professional. In the end, the ad will probably most greatly benefit the model who played the girl more than itself.

Offensiveness aside, good advertising does more than drive awareness. Companies don’t make money from mere awareness. The Taco Bell dog had very high awareness, but sales fell. They pitched the dog and replaced him with something I can’t even recall. But sales went way up. had high awareness and no sales. We all know what happened next.

It just doesn’t make sense to dump so much of your marketing budget into one vehicle or even primarily into advertising when consumers have grown so resistant to it. could have spent some of those millions buying a toll-free phone number (calling to buy its products or services is a toll call for the majority of their customers and Super Bowl watchers), PR campaigns, ads targeting IT professionals and small business people who are its key targets and on launching a referral program to encourage its strongest advocates to tell others about (aka, viral marketing). could have then partnered with companies selling complementary products and services, but it went the route of branding at break neck speed. Hopefully, has enough money to survive this kind of spending. It takes selling a lot of domains for $8.95 to get back the millions it spent on the ad it aired and the ones it didn't. Plus, it has now created a negative brand image with more consumers and business people than ever before.

Maybe GoDaddy should have pressed the pause button before submitting their Super Bowl commercial.


Friday, February 04, 2005

Marketing Even I Can’t a Point

Indulge me for a bit. This post is a diversion. Perhaps an infusion of some color and personality into Marketing Today Blog. I am going to get personal.

What have I become?

I was once an extremely logical consumer. Then it happened. The event that transformed me into an illogical consumer, guilt-ridden to pay a premium and prone to emotion over logic. To a point.

The event that brought the change was my wife's pregnancy. My first child is on the way, a boy, due this month. Consequently, I've been sucked into the world of baby product and service marketing as a consumer, not a marketer. It is an area that I know little about since this is my first child, although I did provide some consulting advice to a manufacturer of baby carrying products a few years ago, mostly related to leveraging the Internet in their marketing mix.

Marketers' attempts at manipulating parents and parents to-be in this field can be incredible. Although, even a veteran marketer like myself can hardly resist the mentality of "I only want the best for my little one" when it creeps in and I spend more on goods whether I need to or not, just because "my son deserves it." My wife is sometimes quite surprised to see my normally solid analytical side being overcome by my emotional side during the buying process, but it happens all the time lately. Talk about emotional branding and marketing. And the tactics! Diapers with cute little animals (logically, the baby will never even see this), heavily reinforced buggies that look like they were engineered by Hummer or Brinks, vibrating mattresses (the salesperson tells us it helps the baby fall asleep more easily and, get this, reduces crying)... Is that mattress claim too good to be true? Probably, but I love the pitch. Emotion once again overcomes logic, even though I should know better.

Still, there is one factor that overcomes all of the promotional branding and claims for me: safety. Specifically, safety ratings from an independent research lab. I research everything. No matter what the brand, if Consumer Reports doesn't rank it at or near the top of its list for safety, I won't buy it. I also check out other parents ratings and opinions of products on and baby-related community sites. In this market, for me and many others, brand image and cute design means nothing when safety isn't there. Last, when it is a purchase of $100 or more, I check the Web for prices before running out to a local store. Of course, short of safety ratings, I will rely on a brand known for safety...and still look for the extras like cool features and cute animals too. Remember, my son deserves the best.

If I were handling marketing for one of these firms, I am confident that safety is a key issue for parents and would make sure ads, brochures and packaging for the products prominently feature safety ratings and safety information before getting to the logic-blocking emotional appeal. Of course, I would also make sure that we had plenty of cute little bunnies, doggies, bears and the extras many parents pay a premium for because their child "deserves the best."

Are there any lessons for B2B marketers? I believe there is.

First, about the psychology of pricing. Pricing that is too low may cause a parent to wonder about quality and safety (of course, that is my gut feeling, not the result of any formal studies, but I am confident it is accurate); pricing that is too high, like anything else, narrows your potential market. Second, about awareness and management of the emotional aspect of branding. Business products and services will never have the kind of emotional power that the purchase baby products have. Still, job security and advancement for the parent of a baby can also be a pretty emotional. IBM has made many sales by providing IT professionals with a sense of job security. It is an area more B2B marketers should consider. Last, the Internet makes researching products and services much easier. While I check with third-party ratings services for baby products, I also check what people who have bought the products I am considering have to say.

The baby product purchase decision cycle can span many channels, from online research to asking friends for recommendations. And while a degree of logic significantly impacts the final purchase, I -- as well as many others -- will still end up shelling out additional dollars to get the product with the bunny or doggy on it. It's a good example of the roles of various channels and emotional influences in the purchase decision cycle and can show the opportunity for marketers to better manage channels and marketing communications.

As exprienced parents are surely thinking, I have many more years of learning from baby marketing to come.