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.

Blending entertainment and advertising

Effective murketing is about getting the kind of exposure that you cant “tivo” out. With DVRs, cable tv, and internet, entertainment is more on-demand than ever. People fast-forward through commercials, watch television programs on their laptops and turn to alternative sources of entertainment such as youtube. To get people to pay attention to your product, you really have to cut through the noise and capture the zeitgeist. To do this, you have to turn your commercial and your product into something more than an advertisement. You have to turn it into entertainment.

One of the most famous examples of this type of marketing is the Will It Blend campaign by Blendtec. In this popular series of youtube videos, Blendtec founder Tom Dickson puts various items in his sturdy Blendtec blender to see if it will indeed blend. Some of the items include iPods, golf balls, marbles, Nintendo Wii, and even a car, a Ford Fiesta. The Will It Blend series is popular (all of its videos have a least one million hits) and irreverent. It features the type of off beat dead pan humor that sells so well on the internet.

So, of course, the campaign is impressive for getting us to want to watch its commercials. But that is only half the ingenuity of the campaign. What has made it so popular is that we get to watch Dickson blend various brand name items that we know such as the iPhone, the iPad, and the Wii. Free advertising and brand exposure anyone? If anyone had any doubts about just what Tom Dickson is up to, then check out this video where Dickson attempts to “blend” a Ford Fiesta. The video is essentially a three minute Fiesta commercial with the punchline of Dickson blending the various items in the backseat of the Fiesta for “roadtrip smoothie.”

The Blendtec videos have become a phenomenon in many circles. They are a perfect example about how to create grass roots brand exposure that spreads through “word of mouth” faster and more effectively than any traditional means of advertising. Instead of spending millions on commercials during peak TV hours, Blendtec made a series of cheap, clever videos that pay for themselves. I bet the guy who came up with that idea got a big raise.

Here’s the video that started it all: