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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Tis’ the Season to be Jolly?

Halloween has come and gone and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Or so we think?

After watching this week’s Dancing with the Stars, not only was I highly entertained and impressed as usual with the skills of these celebrities, but I also discovered a treasure chest of material in Justin Bieber’s guest performance on the show singing Never Say Never and conveniently singing along side Boys II Men (whom I haven’t seen in what seems like ages) a Christmas themed song from Justin Bieber’s upcoming new album, Under the Mistletoe.

Do you see anything strange here? I’ll give you a hint. Why is Justin Bieber singing on a dancing show?

It seems like Christmas is coming earlier than we are expecting.

In the years that have come to past, the three major holiday seasons: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas has always been marked by a carnival of what I consider traditional marketing. With advertisements on TV, the plethora of goods in the special aisles of CVS or Walgreens, holiday programming like Charlie Brown and the [insert number of days] of [insert appropriate holiday here] movies, radio announcements and don’t forget those Christmas songs way before the season is even upon us, we are constantly reminded the high consuming season is here.

There are a few things I see in the appearance of Justin Bieber that’s murketing for a number of things.

First, there’s the fact that Justin Bieber did a guest live performance. As much as the live audience and those of us watching at home enjoyed his performance, it wasn’t just any live performance, but one that promotes himself and his new album. For this time of the season with Christmas upon us, it’s more salient to listeners. As people get into the Christmas spirit and think about what items to buy, Justin Bieber’s album will already be floating in the minds of individuals before the regular promotional season actually starts.

Secondly, the show itself and the broadcasting producers behind it also benefit from Justin Bieber’s appearance on the show. As one of the big teen throbs, it further attracts a larger viewing audience and better ratings, which in a nutshell means more profit. As I watched the program, I almost missed the show’s quick promotion of Macy’s Stars of Dance event to promote the television premier of Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour by Cirque de Soliel.

Weaving performances, shows, and products across multiple media areas captures the murkiness in marketing today. Whatever one thing we watch or listen to can be working as marketing for not one but multiple products that in the end coaxes the consumer to indulge.

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.

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.

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:

Lime green undies

Vacationed in Nantucket this summer? Perhaps you came across a tall blonde girl clad in lime green undies with a pink stripe at the top. Perhaps you also encountered a large group of high school or college aged people receiving this undies, putting them on, and taking a picture. Seems like a strange thing to do on a summer vacay but hey, you never know these days.

What are these undies all about? That is exactly what the clothing line, Jack Wills, wants you to ask. And nope, Jack Wills is not a lingerie or undergarment store. Rather, it is a British store known for its preppy, boarding-school image. Urban Dictionary explains Jack Wills as,

The Quintessential British Preppy Brand
A clothes brand, the british alternative to Abercrombie and Fitch but much more exclusive to those who can afford it. JW has a rock solid, traditional British heritage, inspired by vintage sportswear, beachwear and classic British public school style. It is the epitome of British preppy cool. Customers who are mainly sloanes and preps are unarguably beautiful and sexy. They are the popular guys and girls in class. They are confident and they ooze effortless style. They adore a hedonistic party. And they are ever so, ever so laid back. It is the complete opposite to anything remotely chavvy such as adidias or lonsdale.

What is a sloane? Or Lonsdale? Really, it is irrelevant, because Jack Wills has turned to a new market. Who other than the young, bold, Generation X, right here in America? Let’s take a look…

Seriously, this video might as well scream murketing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a JW Seasonnaire. They definitely got me on board. An internship to live at the Jack Wills house, in beautiful, sunny Nantucket for the summer? (There’s a Jack Wills house?!) Opportunities to party in LA and the UK at a sponsored party? Handing out neon underwear on the beach all day? (Admittedly, this part could get a little weird.)

But, you get my point. Jack Wills is targeting their new potential consumers at all angles, including plopping themselves smack down in the middle of arguably one of the preppiest places in the U.S. and claiming it as their murketing territory. Wealthy, preppy summer vacationers are exactly the people Jack Wills hopes to gain as loyal brand wearers.

Even further, Jack Wills is encouraging these potential consumers to work for, and with, Jack Wills to promote not only awareness but also a certain image of what it means to wear the brand. By inviting these adventure-minded, party-ready young adults to “work” (walk down the beach all day) for the brand, Jack Wills is not only marketing to those the workers will interact with, but is also using this internship as a platform to attract and entice people to be an integral part of their brand image, and thus create an intimate bond and loyalty to the brand. By allowing consumers to be a part of the process of marketing, Jack Wills is capitalizing on Generation X’s desire to be active consumers, directly involved with the brands they choose to be part of their identity. Those who work for the brand will most likely feel very connected to their lime green undies.

If you ask me, its genius.

(And what, by the way, has Jack Wills been up to in this colder weather? Ah, it has smoothly transitioned from summery Nantucket to sophisticated Newbury Street, sponsoring an “exclusive” party to celebrate the opening of the new store. Check it out.)

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?

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