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?

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:

In your homes?! In your schools?!

Are you a parent? Take a look around your house. If you go to school, take a look around your classrooms. Work in an office? Do the same thing. If you’re a boarding student like I am, go ahead and look around your room. See anything interesting or out of the ordinary?  Probably not, right? Well, I did when I looked around mine.

Take a look at this poster.

Despite the fact that I have a poster in my room that reads “School is Fun” (Can you blame me, my mother put up educational posters of state flags and birds in my room as an adolescent), this seemingly adorable looking banner of animals is actual murketing.  After having this banner up in my room for four months now, I realized this just the other day.

If you’re unfamiliar with the brand, that’s completely fine, because it’s actually a popular brand sold in Japan called Suzy Zoo. You’re probably wondering how a brand from Japan is related to all this. Well, change my wall to a wall in a classroom for grade school students and change the characters of Suzy Zoo to say familiar characters from Pixar. If you can imagine young children seeing this poster, responding to it, and going home to their parents, only to go shopping with them another day and seeing those same familiar characters on notebooks, calendars, backpacks, clothes, and other goods, then you will begin to understand how marketers use these subtle methods that children are unable to discern easily from the traditional commercial advertisements that everyone is used to.

The film, Consuming Kids, (mentioned in previous posts) explores in more detail how advertisements saturate everyone’s life especially those of children even going as far as following them to school where you think they would be free from marketers’ agendas. Right? Wrong. Did you know some schools have taken students on field trips…to the mall?

It is exactly as one man stated in the movie, “They call that education?”

As much as school is a learning place, there is a lot more advertising being done there then you would think from sponsors of big corporate companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola to something as simple as a poster on the wall.

Something like my Suzy Zoo poster is harmless to someone like me that, let’s face it, knows better. But what about all the younger individuals who don’t have that knowledge?

Think about it.

Are you being played?

Make way videogames- there is a new kind of game in town. Now introducing…drumroll please….(sorry for the cheesiness):

“Advergames”

Adver-what? Advergames. Quite simply, they are games designed  to advertise a product, organization, or idea. Frequently such games are one of the major sources of traffic to a brand’s website. They not only draw in hooked users who play the game themselves, but also encourage users to invite their friends to play (can you say word of mouth marketing?) In addition to drawing traffic, such advergames seek to promote a positive image of the brand by associating it with doing something fun (playing a game).

One obvious target for such games are none other than kids. As discussed in the previously mentioned film,  “Consuming Kids,” such games have a negative effect on children not only by exposing them to product placement, but also by limiting the amount of free, unstructured, creative play they engage in. When a child sits in front of a computer screen playing a pre-constructed virtual game with pre-created characters and plot lines, there is no creativity involved. Instead of creating their own world and characters, kids are essentially being told that their imagination isn’t good enough. Well, what about the games where you get to pick a character, add a name, or create your own virtual world? While that offers more in the way of user choice, let’s face it, you are still picking from a pre-determined set of choices.

Wondering what an advergame would look like? Let’s look at an example.

Remember a while back when your Facebook news feed was clogged with updates about how many sheep your friends had on Farmville? I’m sure you do. Well, now, the wonderful folks at Zynga games have introduced a brand new game, Cityville! However, Cityville has a twist….you can play as Enrique Iglesias!

Now let’s take a look at this. Definitely looks like murketing to me. It appears as if the purpose of the game is to create a fictional city, and get Enrique to perform in your city as part of his Euphoria tour (only after you build his Euphoria Arena of course!) Seems to me like a nice little plug for Enrique as an artist, his current Euphoria tour, and his new music video (which the game allows you to preview). That means the game is targeting three different revenue sources for Enrique- CD sales, ticket sales, and music video downloads. I would also like to point out that the font spelling “Enrique Iglesias” in the top right corner of the cartoon is the exact same font and color scheme as on his latest  record (not like I have it or anything). Seems to me like some subtle priming right there.

What do you think? Murketing or harmless entertainment? Oh, and perhaps even more importantly, does anyone actually think the animated Enrique resembles the real Enrique in the slightest?!

Don’t Cry Over Disneyland

Children today are growing up in an unprecedented era of extensive advertising that is drastically different from the more forthright days of TV commercials and billboards. How do advertisers aim to reach kids today?

They quite simply cross the ever wavering line of marketing into murketing, and thus enter right into the lives of these children, simply dropping their products into their everyday lives. The film, “Consuming Kids,” addresses this phenomenon, emphasizing the endless assault of advertising that children are unknowingly confronted with in almost all contexts. From schools to grocery stores, children are constantly targeted as potential consumers.

As one professional stated in the film, “Commercials are so 20th century.”

These advertisers attempt to capitalize on the “nag factor,” sending children messages that if they keep asking for something, their parents will eventually give in. Ever seen a two year old throw a temper tantrum in a grocery store?

Perhaps the child’s parents, and the unfortunate bystanders, should shift the blame to advertisers for such behavior.

Which leads me to address a YouTube video I recently encountered. Try not to be distracted by this adorable five going on six year old’s bright blue eyes and ask yourself the question of how deeply advertising has infiltrated her life.

If you ask me, she nails it when she exclaims, “Oh my goodness.”

I would be overwhelmed too. Before she even opens her Disney Princess backpack, notice that she is clad in Paul Frank pajama pants. She proceeds to open two Disney DVD’s (Hey Mom, how did you know she wanted these?), Minnie Mouse pajamas, an “I ❤ Disney t-shirt” and Oreos, among other snacks. All of this culminates with the final gift, a trip to Disneyland. Are we seeing a theme here?

Looks like murketing to me. You tell us, is it worth crying over?

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