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?

One man’s life is another man’s…profit?

As I was talking one night with one of my friends, he sent me a link to something I found to be very interesting. It was a geniunely inspirational commencement speech made by Steve Jobs celebrating with Standford’s Graduating Class of 2005 as they embarked on their next journey of life. I bet at that time it didn’t cross anyone’s mind that six years later, on October 5, 2011, that the brilliant mastermind behind the brand of Apple iPod would pass away.

For the sake of time, I followed my friend’s suggestion and read the last three paragraphs of his speech. There was power behind those words, but while I continued to think of his insightful advice, I started thinking about something else. It’s no mistake that Steve Jobs was a highly revered person in the technological and business world. If his ideas and images were so influential, then of course the death of this legendary man would also play a part in our topic of murketing.

When an ordinary person dies, only a small number of people know about it, right? Condolence cards and invitations to wakes are sent and the funeral comes and goes without much ado, the memory of the deceased held in the hearts of the individual’s closest friends and family. But what happened when Steve Jobs passed away? After a quick Google search following my curiosity, I found this: an influx of Steve Jobs memorabilia items on sell in less than 24 hours after his death and the advancement of certain special products.

Really guys, really? After all, this is a “Stop the Presses” moment.

Of course, putting his picture as the front cover of TIMES Magazine rather than, say, a deceased iPod (for symbolic imagery) or a different picture wouldn’t work as well to draw in the audience to buy the product. Created T-shirts, old magazine photos in magazines, and old figures have skyrocketed in price on sites like E-bay according to one website, DailyDot.com. Another one advises the public to beware of scams related to this. That aside, I’m sure other magazines such as TIMES, depicted the iconic image of Steve Jobs on their covers not just to pay tribute to the man himself, but to also use his influential presence to sell their own items to.

And what about Apple? Did his death have influence on the sales of the new iPhone 4S and iOS5? According to this article from PC World, there was some influence. How many people out there who didn’t consider getting the iPhone 4S got it just in Steve Jobs memory? I can’t answer that question. But I do know from some of my friends’ Facebook statuses, his death was a contributing factor. As the article noted “more than 4 million phones were sold in just 3 days”. The combination of marketing and planning, the initial release of the phone, his death, and the release of iOS5 have critics miffed by the remarkable sales. As Natatcha wrote on her Facebook status, “iphone 4S (iPhone 4 Steve).”

*Instead of an Apple “bite” it’s Steve Jobs profile.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Or maybe it is the iPhone 4 Steve. It’s just too murky for me to figure out so I’ll let you decide.

Marketing murketing

Ever heard of Brian Halligan? Maybe not, but you’ve probably heard of HubSpot, especially if you are involved in any sort of new business venture.

One of my friends has an internship with a start-up company this semester. This morning she was telling me about this great new marketing software that she thinks could be really useful to the company, called HubSpot. I decided to check it out.

Woah, hang on. Is this Rob Walker talking? This clip looks like it is the video complement to Walker’s book, Buying In. In fact, it seems as if HubSpot is murketing in action. As Walker predicted, perhaps companies are starting to recognize and capitalize on murky marketing tactics in this ever changing world.

Yet, as HubSpot suggests, this may not be such an easy transition for some companies. HubSpot operates under the principle that “outbound” marketing, which involves interrupting the potential consumers’ daily lives, is no longer effective. Walker would call this “traditional” marketing. HubSpot identifies outbound techniques as cold calls, tradeshows, direct mail and seminars. HubSpot claims that these techniques are no longer effective, because of changing technology which creates barriers to their access (caller id, spam blockers, TiVo, SiriusXM Radio) and new technology which is more readily accessible and user-friendly (Google, Facebook, Twitter, blogs).

HubSpot also suggests that perhaps we are just simply sick of these interruptions.

Thus, HubSpot promotes “inbound” marketing. What exactly is inbound marketing? It involves conversing with the consumer rather than interrupting the consumer. It entails adapting to and entering into the ways in which Generation X interacts and learns. Thus, inbound marketing involves integrating search engine optimization, social media sites, blogs, etc. in order to relate to potential consumers. Inbound marketing requires becoming a part of the every day life of it’s target consumers. HubSpot is sure to emphasize that this can be a daunting task, as the new marketing world is vast, complex and interrelated.

HubSpot’s website explains:

“It’s time to reshape the way we think about marketing. Stop pushing. Start attracting. Stop interrupting. Start engaging.”

How, exactly are companies supposed to do this? Ah, that’s easy. Simply buy the HubSpot software. Duh.

“HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Software gives you all the tools you need to make marketing that people will actually love – earning quality leads and loyal customers in return.”

Essentially, HubSpot is turning murketing into a product.

Fancy that.

HubSpot’s software includes blogs, website management, SEO (search engine optimization) tools, prospect intelligence (“lets you know if a company is visiting your site without filling out a form”), marketing analytics, competitor tracking, blog analytics, email management and lead intelligence (“understand how your leads are navigating your site for more informed sales calls”), among others. These tools fall under three different categories of the software, “tools to get found,” “tools to analyze” and “tools to convert”. How much does this all cost?

Up to $700 a month for the “enterprise” plan. Ouch. Yet, HubSpot appears to be a rapidly growing and readily successful company.

Perhaps murketing is worth the cost.

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?

Coming to an inbox near you!

How are Hotmail, Hulu, and Facebook interconnected? I’ll tell you how.

As a relatively new member of Hulu, one of the first things I subscribed to is a short show called “The Morning After”. It’s about six minutes long airing daily from Monday through Friday and is described as “a smart, pop culture “snack” to help get Hulu users quickly up to date on the latest and greatest in entertainment news and celebrity gossip. So, I have the luxury of having a link to the program sent to my e-mail inbox every day!

Not seeing the picture yet? Just wait for it.

The program, with its two witty co-host Ginger and Brian, give viewers the latest news and critiques about the continued series and up and coming new shows. It’s also a daily six minute TV show promotion brought right to your e-mail. Not necessarily the direct advertising that many of us are used to it nevertheless makes viewers aware of the new media they should be indulging.

Recently, on this show, starting with this video from the 11th of October, they have been encouraging fans of the show to visit their page on Facebook for a chance to receive a Fall TV Makeover by using previews from two new HBO TV shows. Who wouldn’t want their very own makeover? Of course, focusing it on two lucky individuals makes it seem rare enough to attract attention and stand out enough to receive this seemingly rare treat.

Not only asking the public for their input on past and present shows that they enjoy in order to give other individuals this golden opportunity; the way they match you with your perfect show is by checking out your Facebook profile. There not an automated service mistaking your interests and referring shows that don’t fit you. By looking at your interests, hobbies, favorite TV shows and books, and more they are able to give you the best recommendation of what new show you should be checking out this Fall.

Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself:

http://www.hulu.com/watch/287655/the-morning-after-tue-oct-11-2011?src=h&kme=Link+Html+Queue#play-queue

From your personal e-mail to internet TV to social networking sites, the borders between internet entities continue to blur the lines between clear advertising and murky marketing by the use of each other.

All in the name of being recognized on a TV show, I suppose.

I hope you enjoyed your few seconds of fame Kristi and Leonel!

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?!