Let’s Give Thanks to…Macy’s?

So, I thought I would continue with our holiday theme in this post (and yes, we are well aware that it is only the beginning of November…but a little holiday cheer never hurt anyone, right?)

In a lot of our posts, we have discussed the way murketing appears through mediums that are fairly new. Some things we have brought to your attention include murketing through Facebook, iPhone games, YouTube, advergames, Hulu, etc. While I think that murketing has certainly become more prominent due to these mediums, I think that is more of a growing trend that has been gaining momentum over the years. I would like to argue that murketing is not new.

One example of what I see as an older example of murketing is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (told you this post was holiday themed). This annual parade presented by Macy’s dates all the way back to 1924. The idea behind a clothing store sponsoring a parade seems to me to have the same basic idea behind it as Red Bull sponsoring their EmSee Challenge (just a little less murky of course…but Macy’s did think of the idea in 1924 so I’ll give them points for originality). Brands sponsor events so that they can reinforce their brand name in a positive light that will add positive associations to their brand.

What interests me about the Macy’s Day Parade is the way the event has become so much more than the Red Bull EmSee challenge could ever hope. The parade is a cultural phenomena. When you think Thanksgiving, you think Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In fact, the event has become so embedded in our cultural traditions that when someone says “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” the “Macy’s” part becomes detached from an association with the store and well, it all just blends together under the banner name of the parade. When I hear the name of the event, I often forget that the “Macy’s” is referring to the department store. Can this be seen as a failure on the part of the store? On the other hand, I’m surprised that the “Macy’s” part hasn’t been dropped from the title as the event became more of a cultural thing. In fact, many people call the event “The Macy’s Day Parade.” I would like to point out that the day that is being celebrated is Thanksgiving! Macy’s doesn’t have a day! Are we really supplementing our cultural heritage with what a corporation wants us to think? From this angle, it highlights the success of the event in placing value on the “Macy’s” part of the name.

Because even parades need logos

However, I find the name to be only part of the intrigue of this event. I would also like to look at the elements of the parade (and namely the balloons) as a case study (of sorts) demonstrating the ways brands and brand meanings are increasingly becoming a part of the fabric of our lives. After all, as Walker discusses, murketing is all about the ways marketers “blur the line between branding channels and everyday life.”

What’s interesting to me about the balloons is the way in which they have changed over the years. Let’s take a trip back in time and try to imagine what the parade looked like around the time that it started. To do so, here is a list of some of the earlier balloons and the date that they first appeared:

1931: Mamma, Papa, and Baby (basically a big balloon showing a family)

1938: Uncle Sam

1940: Eddie Cantor

1949: Toy Soldier

1948: Harold the Fireman

1947: Gnome

1951: Flying Fish

Do you notice a trend? While these aren’t the only balloons that appeared during that time period, they are some of the more notable ones. And guess what? None of them represent a brand, product, cartoon character, etc. That’s not to say that the earlier parades lacked such figures. For example, Mickey Mouse appeared in a balloon form in 1934. But, the point that I am trying to make is that the majority of the balloons that appeared in the earlier days of the parade lacked any brand association.

Now, let’s take a look at the balloon introductions to the parade in more recent years:

2011: Sonic the Hedgehog, Tim Burton’s “B”

2010: Greg Heffley, Po from Kung Fu Panda, Virginia O’Hanlon

2009: Pillsbury Dough Boy, Sailor Mickey Mouse (4th version), Ronald McDonald (3rd version), Spiderman (2nd version)

2008: Horton the Elephant, Buzz Lightyear, Smurf

2007: Shrek, Hello Kitty, Abby Cadabby

Are you catching the pattern here? Unlike the earlier balloons which were mostly neutral characters not associated with a brand, with a few branded exceptions, more recent years have seen a majority of balloons representing various brands, with a few exceptions (like Virginia O’Hanlon). For a full list, click here.

Harold the Fireman, recreated to represent the 1948 original

The parade in 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does this mean? Well, here are a few suggestions I have:

1) There are a lot more branded images available to us today (cartoon characters, book characters, movie characters, TV characters, mascots from logos)

2)  We are increasingly using these branded images as reference points. As we saw in the film Consuming Kids, characters like Elmo, Mickey Mouse, etc. are increasingly becoming touchstones for children.

3) We have gotten to the point where we forget that some of these characters are in fact brands. I know that when I watch the parade on TV, I don’t feel as if I am being marketed to. Instead, I get excited when I see a character that I like, such as Buzz Lightyear (yes I know that is the exact same response a five year old would have). Looks to me like marketers are doing something right.

So, does this mean that we are ready consumers, not immune to marketing, but more attuned to hear it’s message, as Walker suggests?

What do you think? Does the parade suggest that murketing is not new? Are brands replacing our cultural traditions?

When Murketing Gets Personal

Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you have heard by now about how Kim Kardashian filed for divorce from her husband of a whopping 72 days, Kris Humphries. What’s even more shocking than the brevity of their marriage is the fact that it has become headline “news”. It’s so newsworthy that my Journalism professor included a question about the length of their marriage on a pop quiz about current events. Scary? I think so. But the whole issue of  the increasing prevalence  and attention focused on “soft” news is an entirely different issue that I’m not going to even begin to address here.

So why am I bringing this up? It’s no secret that the entire Kardashian clan is all about branding. The family name has become a brand, and they have transformed their family into a Kardashian empire, tapping into reality TV, clothing lines, perfume lines, books, boutiques, Quick Trim ads….the list goes on and on. While they aren’t shy about hiding the fact that they have stamped their name on basically any product they can get their hands on, I wonder if perhaps they have a few slightly….murky tricks up their (designer) sleeves.

There has been a lot of speculation that Kim’s marriage was a money making hoax, publicity stint, etc. I’m not going to make any comment or judgement about her motivation behind her marriage, whether or not she gave the marriage a try, etc. I’m in no position to judge given I don’t know the facts. However, I do want to objectively point to a few things. For example, while news of the divorce came out this past Monday (October 31st), two days later Kim was in Australia with sister, Khloe, to promote an Australian-exclsuive Kardashian Kollection Handbag launch. Also, their mother, Kris Jenner, released a new book, entitled “Kris Jenner…and All Things Kardashian”  this past Tuesday, November 1st. Hmmm……seems like an awful lot of promotional ventures were scheduled for the Kardashian clan right around the date that Kim filed for divorce. I’m not saying she purposely filed for divorce the same week as the launch of this exclusive handbag collection or her mother’s book, but it sure did generate even more attention than normal around the entire family at what seems like a pretty convenient time from a promotional standpoint.

Intentional or not, the divorce announcement seemed to me like a nice murky cover under which to efficively promote their respective products. For example, Kris Jenner  went on The Today Show in order to “Defend Her Daughter….And Promote Her New Book!” as blogger Perez Hilton so aptly titles the clip. As he suggests, it appears that Kris is taking advantage of the attention the public is casting on the family  as a result of the divorce news to promote a book that would most likely not generate a whole of lot media buzz (I mean another tell-all-book….really?)

Following suit, Kim herself and Khloe appeared on Australia’s Sunrise morning TV show to talk about the divorce, and oh yea, promote their handbag line. As you can see from the video still below, the duo cleverly left a few handbags from the collection on the table. While neither the news anchors or either of the Kardasians make reference to them, it seems like murky product placement to me.

In a landscape cluttered with consumer products, it’s pretty hard for any one product to stand out. We have mentioned already how Rob Walker describes this phenomena as “the pretty good problem.” He describes branding as the key to solving it. In the case of the Kardashians, clearly they have mastered the art of branding. What’s more, it seems that they have have figured out yet another way (and a murky one) to help their products stand out in this cluttered landscape- controversy. It also seems that they have found a way to use their personal lives as a vehicle for marketing. Very, very murky.

Once upon a time….

I’m going to tell you a story. Actually, I’m going to paraphrase a story that none other than our favorite Rob Walker tells in his book, Buying In. He does a wonderful, detailed job telling you this story, but quite frankly I don’t have that time and you would probably get bored, so I will give you the highlights.

Once upon a time, there was a beer company called Pabst Brewing Company. They made a nice, cheap beer called Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR). PBR wasn’t doing too well in terms of sales. The company wasn’t doing very well either. However, for some reason, despite the fact that they were not marketing the beer at all, they saw sales starting to pick up. And grow. And grow some more. When they investigated the growing popularity of the beer, they found that it was becoming a favorite among individuals in “alternative” people- especially in Portland. You know what kind of people I’m talking about. The hipster, grunge, Indie, underground type people. This included subculture groups like bike messengers. These people liked PBR because, quite frankly, there was no marketing around it. They saw it as a sort of underdog and adopted it into their culture. They were able to do this because there was a lack of brand meaning associated with PBR, which let the drinkers create their own meaning around PBR- a phenomena called projectability. This was also a bottom up approach to marketing.

The interesting thing about PBR is that even once its foundering sales picked up- it still abstained from basically any marketing. Aside from the occasional low-key sponsorship of a bike messenger tournament, it shunned advertising, including a possible endorsement deal with Kid Rock. However, I refuse to believe that PBR uses no marketing. Instead, I think it is very murky. Here is an example I found of one way the brand seems to be marketing itself- without seeming like it is coming directly from the company.

 

As you can tell by the picture, this campaign is spearheaded by Union Binding Company (a snowboard binding retailer) which offered this pretty cool looking pair of PBR bindings in a contest. In order to enter the contest, one simply had to share the image on their Facebook page. There are a few things about this that interest me.

1) PBR is very smart to team up and “co-brand” with Union Binding Company. It makes the source of this promotion more murky and makes consumers feel less like Pabst is hitting them with an ad directly.

2) Note that the product they are branding is snowboard bindings. Remember how I told you the brand was embraced by alternative subculture types? Snowboarders seem to fit that category to me.

3) People actually want to win these (as you can tell by the number of people who commented on the photo or entered the contest). This reinforces the idea that people see PBR as more of a cultural symbol and less of a brand.

4) This is yet another example of a company who uses Facebook advertising to their advantage. By making sharing the photo a term of the contest, they are getting free, word of mouth advertising.

 

Will Pabst live happily ever after using this type of murketing strategy? I don’t know. What do you think?

Trust Me, I’m a Doctor

It’s no secret that magazines are chock full of advertisements. However, when I was reading the November issue of Glamour magazine (don’t judge- it’s a guilty pleasure), I noticed that there seemed to be three main ad categories- a tier of advertising so to speak. Within this tier, I noticed varying levels of murky-ness.

The first category I was able to discern consisted of the majority of the ads (and probably the magazine itself). If I could guestimate, I would say that 80% of the magazine was full of your basic, blatant, full page print ads. Murky level: 0%  Here are two  examples:


T
he second ad category I noticed appeared throughout the magazine at a lower frequency than these full page, traditional ads, but were still fairly common. The interesting thing about this category is that they are much more subtle. In the example below, you can tell that the ad mimics the format of a magazine article, using similar fonts, colors, and cleverly titling the section “November notebook.” It seems as if the advertisers are really trying to trick you into thinking that their ads are not ads, but a part of the magazine. In fact, just by briefly flipping through the magazine, I thought they were at first. The giveaways? 1) The fact that Glamour puts the word “advertisement” at the top of each of these “fake-feature ads” and 2) once you actually read it, it’s pretty clear what it is.

Murky level: 50% – Example below (not the word “advertisement” at the very top).

Finally, the third category of ads I noticed was what I’m going to term the “interview- ad.” One example of this is an article called “Meet the Rock-Star Dermatologists: L.A. Edition.” Basically, it’s a series of mini interviews with five “superstar” dermatologists who offer advice on “skin-beautifying tips,” and tell amusing anecdotes about themselves and their celeb clients. However, what I found most interesting about the section was not how drinking a glass of water before bedtime hydrates your skin, but how there were so many product plugs in the “interviews” with the dermatologists. For example, in the interview with “The Skin Cancer Guru” Dr. Lisa Chipps (picture below), it says “Dr. Chipps likes Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Sunblock SPF 50 ($13, at drugstores) as an everyday first line of defense. ‘It’s also very important to use products that will reverse damage that has already been done…she adds’ ”

While reading this, I was skeptical. Does Dr. Chipps actually likes this product, or is that just what the magazine decides that she likes? It’s interesting how the writer followed that statement about the sunscreen with a direct quote from Chipps, to create the illusion that the product plug was coming from Chipps directly. The article targets the other dermatologists as well. Another Example? ” ‘Glycolic pads are an addordable way to exfoliate dead skin cells at home’ says Dr. Zaks. He likes Topix Glycolix Elite Treatment Pads 10% ($19 for 60, dermstore.com).” The article also features “5 Things the Derms Love” – a photo section with the doctor’s top products pics.

Murky level: 95%

The interesting thing about this ad is that these dermatologists aren’t spokespeople for the brands mentioned in the article (as far as I can tell) . They aren’t the face of the brand (hahah pun not intended) nor do any of their names bring a particular brand to mind (like Queen Latifah and CoverGirl, for example). Perhaps that is what makes this kind of advertising so effective- it seems more credible and suggests that they support these products because they work, not because they are getting paid to do so (although I would be curious to know if there is any sort of financial compensation involved to the doctors or the magazine for these product plugs).

We live in an age where consumers are faced with the “pretty good problem,” a phenomena described by Walker as one where it is hard to distinguish among the plethora of available products, all of which are similar in terms of utility and style. For example, there are countless skin care products on the market. When it comes to something like sunscreen, the “Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Sunblock” is probably the exact same thing in terms of quality and function as one made by Coppertone. Yet, as Walker discusses, it is the brand and the brand image that sets products apart in this new age. By associating brands like Neutrogena with dermatologists,  it doesn’t define the brand meaning, but consumers may be more likely to buy Neutrogena if it is associated with the expertise and backing of a dermatologist. This ad takes advantage of the power of reputable expertise in persuasion- yet you may not realize that it is happening. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor.”

Say what?

People love to talk. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m definitely one of those people, whether I’m talking your ear off about classes or complaining about the weather. But my favorite thing to talk about? Shopping. If I get a fabulous deal on sweaters during a fall clearance event (with free shipping!) or buy a pair of boots that I really like, I’m going to tell you.

Even though you might not like when I babble relentlessly about my shopping conquests, I can think of someone who does: advertisers. That’s because when I rant about how much I love a product, brand, or when a store is having a sale, it’s instant, free, word-of-mouth marketing for the company.

While me talking to you about my shopping adventures is natural and not sponsored by a company, marketers are increasingly pursuing tactics that take advantage of marketing in forums that are “not TV ads or  billboards, or even video games, but rather the conversations we have in our everyday lives,” as described by Rob Walker in “Buying In.” Walker describes such word-of-mouth marketing techniques as an attempt to “break the fourth wall that used to separate the theater of commerce, persuasion, and salesmanship from quotidian life”  through “the commercialization of chitichat.” There are even companies out there, like BzzAgent, that recruit “agents.” These everyday people volunteer to talk about a product with friends, co-workers, or neighbors using specific talking points provided by the company.

Even if we aren’t recruited by a company like BzzAgent, we can be “agents” naturally, without even realizing it.

For example, imagine you are in Bucharest, Romania walking towards the popular restaurant filled area of Old Town and you see this:

 

 

 Unless you are the most spacey person in the universe, chances are that is going to stop you in your tracks. What is that exactly you might wonder? Well, as the band along the bottom of the fountain indicates, it is an advertisement for the fourth season of the popular HBO show, True Blood, which debuted in Romania on October 7. While that strip of print advertising is by no means novel, it’s the huge blood-red stained fountain above it that I want to draw your attention to.

In my opinion, that’s one pretty awesome form of murketing.

1) By stopping pedestrians in their tracks, it encourages them to read the band of print advertising under it that would most likely go unnoticed under normal circumstances.

2) If you see a red fountain in the middle of town, you are probably going to tell your friends. Something like that needs a lot of explaining too. So, a typical conversation will probably have the mention of True Blood in it to explain what the heck happened to that fountain. Boom. Instant word-of-mouth advertising.

Does anyone else feel bad for the guy who has to clean that up? I do.

Photo credit: http://collider.com/true-blood-viral-campaign-romania/120338/

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