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?

Say what?

People love to talk. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m definitely one of those people, whether I’m talking your ear off about classes or complaining about the weather. But my favorite thing to talk about? Shopping. If I get a fabulous deal on sweaters during a fall clearance event (with free shipping!) or buy a pair of boots that I really like, I’m going to tell you.

Even though you might not like when I babble relentlessly about my shopping conquests, I can think of someone who does: advertisers. That’s because when I rant about how much I love a product, brand, or when a store is having a sale, it’s instant, free, word-of-mouth marketing for the company.

While me talking to you about my shopping adventures is natural and not sponsored by a company, marketers are increasingly pursuing tactics that take advantage of marketing in forums that are “not TV ads or  billboards, or even video games, but rather the conversations we have in our everyday lives,” as described by Rob Walker in “Buying In.” Walker describes such word-of-mouth marketing techniques as an attempt to “break the fourth wall that used to separate the theater of commerce, persuasion, and salesmanship from quotidian life”  through “the commercialization of chitichat.” There are even companies out there, like BzzAgent, that recruit “agents.” These everyday people volunteer to talk about a product with friends, co-workers, or neighbors using specific talking points provided by the company.

Even if we aren’t recruited by a company like BzzAgent, we can be “agents” naturally, without even realizing it.

For example, imagine you are in Bucharest, Romania walking towards the popular restaurant filled area of Old Town and you see this:

 

 

 Unless you are the most spacey person in the universe, chances are that is going to stop you in your tracks. What is that exactly you might wonder? Well, as the band along the bottom of the fountain indicates, it is an advertisement for the fourth season of the popular HBO show, True Blood, which debuted in Romania on October 7. While that strip of print advertising is by no means novel, it’s the huge blood-red stained fountain above it that I want to draw your attention to.

In my opinion, that’s one pretty awesome form of murketing.

1) By stopping pedestrians in their tracks, it encourages them to read the band of print advertising under it that would most likely go unnoticed under normal circumstances.

2) If you see a red fountain in the middle of town, you are probably going to tell your friends. Something like that needs a lot of explaining too. So, a typical conversation will probably have the mention of True Blood in it to explain what the heck happened to that fountain. Boom. Instant word-of-mouth advertising.

Does anyone else feel bad for the guy who has to clean that up? I do.

Photo credit: http://collider.com/true-blood-viral-campaign-romania/120338/

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?!