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?

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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.

Walkin’ on water

These days you can’t just sell a product by starting a marketing campaign. To sell a product, you have to create a phenomenon and sell a lifestyle. The trick is creating the phenomenon and selling the lifestyle without anyone realizing that you’re also trying to sell a product. Enter Hi-Tec’s Liquid Mountaineering ad campaign.

Back in 2009, a video popped up on Youtube introducing the world to the newest extreme sport sweeping the world, Liquid Mountaineering. In other words, walking on water. The video was shot like a documentary and ostensibly filmed in Portugal featuring a number of foreign athletes who helped “invent” the sport. The video interviews these athletes and they talk about how the sport got started and then show a number of attempts to liquid mountaineer. In the video, the athletes are all discretely wearing T-shirts and sweatshirts branded with Hi-Tec. A few of the athletes make mention the fact that the sport became possible due to their discovery of a pair of 100 % water repellant shoes. The video gained over 4 million hits. Suddenly everyone was talking about Liquid Mountaineering. If this all sounds a bit fishy to you, it should. A lot of people fell for the video. It was shot documentary style and seemed plausible enough. A Facebook page and a blog were made in homage to the new sport and the “athletes” were obscure and foreign enough that any person on the internet would not be surprised if the only mention they found of them was through the Liquid Mountaineering sites. When a few people noticed the Hi-Tec branding and questioned them about the video, they at first denied any involvement. It wasn’t until some time later when they acknowledged that yes it was an ad campaign and yes the videos were not real.

When asked about the campaign Simon Bonham, the head of marketing at Hi-Tec, explained that the goal of the videos was to “capture the fun, spirited side of our brand.” Bonham and Hi-Tec wanted to sell the Hi-Tec “lifestyle,” as the most extreme of all the extreme sports clothing brands. To do that, they invented an outrageous sport and sent into the blogosphere where they got all the free publicity they needed. When a video goes viral there’s no telling how large the audience and the exposure will get, certainly more than any commercial on a hit TV show. And you can bet anyone that saw that video wont be forgetting who orchestrated the gag.

Check out the video:

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?

Get ’em early!

We all know what advertisers want: Cradle to grave brand loyalty. According to Susan Linn, cofounder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, “Marketing to children in this country is pervasive, it’s virtually unchecked, and it’s escalating,” In today’s world, everything a child uses is branded from diapers to clothes to toys. No longer do babies have mobiles of stars and globes and other shapes. Now, they have mobiles with Elmo and Mickey Mouse, instilling a brand loyalty before they can even begin to think.

The question now for advertisers is how do you convert a child’s brand loyalty to Sesame Street into brand loyalty to Lexus or Toyota when they are older? Ford is attempting to do just that with their latest ad campaign, a partnership with Lego, the popular toy maker. As part of their new partnership, Ford commissioned Lego to make a Ford Explorer entirely out of Legos. The Lego Ford will then go on tour to the Legoland Theme Park in Orlando, Florida where it will undoubtedly be ogled by countless Lego enthusiasts and, of course, all the children at the park. Before it arrives at Legoland Florida, however, the car will be loaded onto a trailer with transparent sides so that motorists from Chicago (where it was built) to Florida can witness it in all its Lego-Ford glory.

The partnership has gained a lot of press for both Legoland and Ford, undoubtedly due to its unusual nature. It follows the typical structure of viral murketing. In order to gain attention in this media saturated world, you have form unusual partnerships that capture the imagination, even if you can do so for only fifteen minutes. The Lego Explorer is unusual enough that they are now getting free press and advertising from news outlets that report the story and interview Ford and Lego executives. By simply building a car, they find free independent advertising that can’t be Tivoed out. Check out the car:

Murky Muscle Milk (Ew)

I have had a large box of Muscle Milk sitting in my kitchen (in a house full of eleven girls it remains largely untouched, though it has been an interesting conversation starter at times) almost all year. Where did I get it? One of my friends works for Muscle Milk. I’ve seen her around campus a few times, clad in all black, riding in the passenger seat of the Muscle Milk car.

If you haven’t seen it driving around yet, take a peek.

She has showed up at our university’s athletic field to give the athletes free samples. I even saw her and her Muscle Milk posse at a house on Spring Fling, our spring concert, giving out free samples. Muscle Milk and beer on a hot day, what could be better? (Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.)

Recently, I came across this “music video” for Muscle Milk.

So, already we have some very evident murketing in the Muscle Milk campaign. First of all, the Muscle Milk car is a moving advertisement. And I would guess that it is no mistake that the car of choice is a jeep. Muscle Milk is a “sporting drink” and thus it seems in order to target this “sporty” population that would drink a “sporty” drink, Muscle Milk advertisers chose a jeep, a car that already has an established “sporty” identity and association.

This leads to my next observation. In his book, Buying In, Walker describes the case of the Timberland boot. Sidney Swartz, the original creator of the Timberland boot, developed a boot for the average, honest, hardworking, blue-color individual. However, the boot was soon embraced by an urban, Hip Hop and R&B population. Walker refers to this as bottom-up marketing, when a group embraces a brand and defines the meaning of the brand themselves, regardless of the efforts of the producers of the brand to cultivate a different meaning. This is an important phenomenon in the new murky world of marketing, and marketers are faced with the challenge of adapting to and maintaining this newly determined meaning of their brand.

What does this have to do with Muscle Milk? Well, thats for us to find out.

Take a look at the Muscle Milk website. Turns out Muscle Milk is a larger company called CytoSport. CytoSport describes itself as a “premier manufacturer of sports-oriented nutritional products that address the needs of athletes and active lifestyle individuals at every level.” The website provides links to sponsored professional athletes as well as colleges that it is associated with, under the tab “Team Cyto”. Cyto Sport even has a special line, “Muscle Milk Collegiate” to directly serve the needs of this young demographic. The last link under this tab identifies CytoSport’s partners, training facilities and sports teams, including the Yahoo! Cycling Team. (Yahoo! has a cycling team? I can’t keep up with all this murketing…) Muscle Milk also sponsors a auto racing team, Muscle Milk Team CytoSport.

I could go on and on, but clearly, Muscle Milk is rapidly adapting to and capitalizing on the murkiness of today’s marketing environment.

However, I wonder how murky marketing is affecting them. Let’s return to their music video. It hardly screams healthy, professional athletes training for competition, as their website boasts. Rather, it seems more in line with the Muscle Milk truck showing up at Spring Fling at Tufts. What’s going on here?

Perhaps the population that is embracing Muscle Milk is not the professional or competitive athletes CytoSport seems to focus on. Maybe Muscle Milk Collegiate fits more effectively into the population of “guido” spring-breakers hoping to tone (and tan) their muscles to increase their chances of picking up a hot chick. The music video seems to suggest that this may be the case, as it blatantly pokes fun of this population of people.

Perhaps, however, Muscle Milk marketers know that bottom-up murketing is at work here, and know that this population could in fact help them, even if it is not what they originally intended. This play hard, party hard, pump-iron hard population may be just what they need.

I bet the majority of Muscle Milk marketers cracked a smile at the line:

“But wait, before we get reckless, gotta look in the mirror and go over our checklist. My arms… are ridiculous, check. My legs… are ridiculous, check. My abs are all tight like their ready for business.”

Murketing on Newbury Street

In his book, Buying In, Walker talks about the common misconception that “Generation Y” or “The Millenials” is a population that is particularly difficult to sell anything to, as they “see through” marketing. Well, do we?

Take the clothing store, LF, for example. I recently visited the LF on Newbury Street in Boston. The first thing I noticed was the fact that we could barely find the store, even when we were basically looking right at it. Distracted by the DJ blasting music from 344 across the street (a well-known, pricey store filled with popular brands like Free People and Michael Stars) and by the floods of shoppers entering the three story Forever 21 adjacent to it, I barely noticed the small store with the simple LF sign lost in the midst of these huge stores.

Upon entering LF you would literally think you were entering a thrift shop. Clothes are strewn everywhere, upbeat music plays, and the workers pretty much leave you alone to sift through the piles of oversized sweaters, ridiculously high wedges, and leather bags.

Yet, there are a few clues that the “image” projected by the store does not exactly fit the reality at work here.

First? The security guard at the door. Second, one look at a price tag… almost everything, from tissue thin belly shirts to furry vests, are over $150. Third, the store still references its single sale a season (it already passed, by the way).

What’s going on here? Well, we know Walker would argue that Generation Y in fact embraces branding, and uses it as a means of expression. Further, he describes how marketers have now figured this out, and thus are finding new, unconventional, subtle, murky ways to capitalize on this.

Perhaps LF, like many other clothing and fashion stores, has capitalized on the hipster “subculture” that seems to be increasingly visible in our society. LF ditched the flashy, colorful, loud advertising of its neighboring competitors, settling with earth tones and messy clothing piles. LF can sell the edgy, throw-it-together look at the prices of a higher end designer. The LF website includes a link to “their favorite blogs” (which are of equally edgy nature) and claims, its for “girls who dare to be different.” It seems as if LF has successfully navigated the new world of murketing, targeting its consumers in underground ways and carefully walking the line between selling its products and maintaing an unassuming, cool and unique vibe that shies away from the mainstream.

My question to you is are LF’s consumers sell-outs? Or, as Walker would argue, are they just embracing branding in a new, less obvious way?

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