Posts filed under ‘advertising- tv’

Augmented (Demented?) Reality: Fictional B&B gives a huge boost

Quite possibly my favorite media cross-over story of, well, ever.  Proving most Americans do have a sense of humor, and likely, too much free time.  A throw-away joke from NBC’s The Office sitcom boosts’s mindshare among the pop-culture obsessed.

As a constant female traveler who prefers to go solo, trips can be made or broken by a lodge/ hotel/ pension; wherever I choose to stay in any given place.  The safety, help, food, security, cleanliness and especially the advice from the proprietors is the most indispensable tool a traveler can have in a far-away, unfamiliar place.  Yet, few people I know (including myself) do more than rate a place by clicking on one to four stars, if they do anything at all.

We’ll spend days obsessing over the possible meaning of a specific article of clothing on LOST, or the many bad days of Jack Bauer on 24, the injustices (and fashion disasters) of the Academy Awards, churning out blog after tweet after Facebook status about any number of things- as long as they’re not real.  Music and books and iPads and bubble tea inspire furious commenting and speculation, but the truly useful information regarding experiences for families, business folk and leisure travelers alike-in numbers or alone inspire less effort, for reasons I don’t quite understand.

I’m not blameless, I do and don’t do the same things.  Though I realize how important accurate, descriptive and diverse-perspective travel advice can be, I rarely take the time post-trip to warn or recommend, to describe or lament missing an event or destination or critical interaction with hotel staff, restaurant owners, local guides, you name it.

But a fictional, thoroughly improbable establishment run by a non-existent ridiculous character (and beet farmer) from what isn’t exactly a hot-spot destination in Pennsylvania?  Well, that warrants a post and a piece in The New York Times, now doesn’t it?

For a B&B That Doesn’t Exist, the Online Reviews Keep Coming

Published: March 28, 2010

One recent TripAdvisor review of the agrotourism destination Schrute Farms awarded four stars, lavishly praising the food, while another yielded just one star, casting aspersions on the owners’ sanity. This wild disparity is especially odd because Schrute Farms doesn’t even exist.

The farm “belongs” to Dwight Schrute of the NBC series “The Office” (and his eccentric cousin Mose). In September 2007, the show asked to use TripAdvisor, a travel Web site, in an episode in which Dwight turns his beet farm into a bed and breakfast. Christine Petersen, the chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor, was thrilled. “We don’t have a big marketing budget and don’t do TV ads,” she said. “This was the big time.”

TripAdvisor set up a review page, thinking it would be good for a quick laugh or two. Paul Lieberstein, who wrote the episode, called “Money,” never even went back to the site afterward. “We thought it would be fun, but then we didn’t think about it anymore,” he said in an interview.

But Schrute Farms is still doing big business — for TripAdvisor. Reruns and DVDs keep inspiring new visits to the site and there are now over 600 reviews (more than for many major Manhattan hotels, Ms. Petersen said).

Many reviewers add their own funny flourishes, enhancing the show’s mythology: Mandy Pyszka from Milwaukee, who stumbled upon the TripAdvisor site while searching Google for Dwight Schrute quotes, raved about the beet pudding.

by Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, beet farmer and agrotourism hotelier.

Carla Harrington of Fredricksburg, Va., was surprised to find 82 percent of reviews recommended Schrute Farms. “I thought about what it would feel like not to know them as TV characters but to really go to this B & B,” she said in an interview. Her one-star slam called Dwight “an overbearing survivalist who appears to have escaped from the local mental asylum.”

Mr. Lieberstein, who also plays Toby Flenderson, a human resources staff member, on the show, said that “The Office” might someday revisit the farm. TripAdvisor executives said they would love that. “We’ve started many a meeting with Dwight’s quote that TripAdvisor is ‘the lifeblood of agrotourism,’ ” Ms. Petersen said. She has contemplated adding the Bates Motel and “The Shining’s” Overlook Hotel.

But not everyone gets the joke. Recently, TripAdvisor added a caveat explaining that Schrute Farms was fictional, Ms. Petersen said. “We had a complaint from someone who had wanted to go there.”

A version of this article appeared in print on March 29, 2010, on page B4 of the New York edition.

2010/03/31 at 22:35 1 comment

Shadows and Tall Trees: what social media marketing can learn from third-world pro-social movements

Trying to nourish the roots from the canopy of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn- what the industry can learn from aid organizations and third world groundswell.

Even if your company, brand or product is not aiming for guerrilla, grassroots marketing models, shouting from the rooftops, no matter how state of the art your audio-visual equipment, may never even reach your traditional client.

The best return to investment ratio marketing tool is word of mouth.  No campaign will beat your best friend, father or trusted colleague raving about real world upside- great results, exceeded expectations, superior service, critical savings or having daily routines eased by a brand or business, wherever it’s found.

The trick, of course, is that those hearing the lauding may not need or want such a thing, and the message is not reaching the audience looking for it. What if you want a new netbook, but don’t know anyone you trust, or with similar usage habits, that just got one? You have no other source but the usual product claims and lures found on company websites or superstore specials.

In the age of brands growing personalities and trying to make themselves accessible and personal by tweeting news, promotions, or links to articles mentioning their wares, the reality is that this approach can be just as impersonal and scatter-shot as traditional media advertising.  Yes, it’s far cheaper and much more nimble (no production and media buying lead times), only with two significant extra hurdles: first, there isn’t the advanced, specific initial demographic data that allows you to target those you want or need to reach and second, even one had this information, one has to get the consumer to follow them to receive the message.

Facebook advertising can alleviate this to a great degree- it’s very nature allows Facebook to offer very specific consumers bases.  It’s not hard to reach out to all the 23-year-old female young urban professionals that listen to Jay-Z and like to knit and eat pepperoni pizza.  So now you’re specific, but are you engaged?

Facebook’s Pages are the middle ground- users opt in, choose to be updated, and have asked to participate with your brand.  Seems ideal- a somewhat captive audience on the world’s biggest social media platform, with people spending so much time there that one grows nostalgic for the (yester)days when parents bemoaned the amount of time their kids spend in front of the tv instead of bosses worrying about work hours whittled away online.

The reality is that those that tend to join these pages join LOTS of pages.  There are users who become fans of bands and stores and designers and companies and products and movements (real and imaginary), nearly every channel or medium you can think of.  There are few users who join just a few pages, and those tend to be solely cultural or political.

Jockeying for attention among a hundred other groups: back to square one.

So what does one do?  How do you “move the needle,” “rise above the clutter,” ‘be heard among the chorus of voices?”  A good road map can be found in an unlikely place: non-profit aid organizations.

Entities like the U.N. and its branches- UNESCO, UNICEF or Government foreign aid programs like USAID and giant NGOs like the WHO’s Sonagachi Project are big, well-funded and in the trenches.  The central, urban trenches.  They tend to focus on the cities (the most visible, obvious areas).  They pour tons of good intentions and money into education, awareness, infrastructure, regional offices and specific initiatives time after time, yet find that they are making little headway in their extraordinary efforts.

Why?  Because they are standing on the canopy, shouting through their proverbial bullhorn, watering these trees, missing every plant, bush, flower and blade of grass in between.

In other words: they’re missing those that need them most- the less visible, the less likely to reach out; the majority of the population.

Project (RED), of which I am an avid supporter, is the poster child for what is happening out there: great marketing, tremendous corporate partnerships, tremendous awareness with the social media universe, engaging campaigns and content, but not reaching the people they were built to serve.  Measure with traditional and cutting-edge metrics, they score off the charts for success in the twitterverse, on Facebook, the blogworld… but not in the savannas and jungles of Africa, where all their social media awareness is not matching the slow, slow progress they’re making in their fight.

They’re getting tons of return when it comes to social media success, but the equation doesn’t balance out- their goal is not being reached, at least not in any meaningful way.  The proportion is so lopsided it’s astonishing.

There is a complete and utter disconnect: the number of followers on Twitter, the legion of Facebook fans, the high awareness are all relatively useless if they are not endemic to the community you’re ultimately aiming for.   If mommy bloggers regurgitate your message all day long, adding up to 100,000 tweets a day for two weeks straight, what does it matter if you’re looking to reach that 23-year-old pizza eating knitter who doesn’t interact with, or is not influenced by, that demographic?  The answer, honestly, is: not much.

The reality is that every one of us in the marketing world- traditional, corporate, digital, social media, wherever, whatever, need to ground ourselves, converse with our real audience, go outside the hubs and online cliques and frankly get our hands dirty.  There is no substitute for an actual dialogue with your audience- no amount of retweets or diggs will ever offer you the insight or tools that a two-way conversation with a couple of real live customers does.

When it comes to social media, anecdotal research, even with a healthy dose of salt, is more valuable than a million twitter shouts into the wind.  Because the reality is that the M.O. of most of us is just that.

We need to dig among those proverbial roots- get out there, observe, interact and THEN plan how to nourish them.  Not the other way around.  There are good case studies out there and they are easy to find and even easier to learn from.  They’re coming from ground up, rural aid organizations led by single and singular people with vision and passion and the humility to listen;  an unexpected, nontraditional place.  Which is right up our edgy, out there, trail-blazing alleys.

For some examples, and a little perspective, pick up Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn’s Half the Sky. You’ll be surprised what a high-powered, high budgeted executive can learn from an uneducated, unconnected former prostitute in Kolkota.

2010/01/07 at 21:49 1 comment

ROI is King.*

* That’s not a cross-lingual pun, (roi meaning king in French) just a coincidence, but now doubly true, I realize.

As a burgeoning social media executive who comes from the international sales and marketing world (via licensing, brand and account management), I found this blog from Business Week exceedingly interesting. I twitter, I blog, I use Facebook to promote a photographer, a band and a South African safari camp and run a very successful industry group on LinkedIn.

I look for the “buzz-” the hits, the new members, the retweets, but often wonder how much of that is still just a simple click of a button. Is it the social media equivalent of reading the book jacket of reading a summary of the Odyssey in high school and then recommending it to others? Or is it actual viral promotion. Or: does it matter?

In my experience, and way of working, return on investment is what matters. Having been a licensing manager at an educational not-for-profit, with a zero dollar (0.00 USD or ZAR, EGP, CNY, RUB, BDT, etc.) marketing budget, I learned at an early stage in my career that return does not always mean revenue. Raising awareness, creating goodwill, gaining mind-share, PR, gaining outreach and ancillary educational partners, raising the perceived value of a brand’s equity, etc. could all be as valuable, or more valuable than immediate monetary return. But the question there, which resounds here, is what is that return? And how do you measure it? What are the statistics? Maybe even: does it matter what the metrics are?

I would argue that the last question is the 64 million dollar one. How do you know if what you’re doing is worth your investment (time, money, man-hours, tools) when you don’t have a simple, clear way of quantifying results? You may be gaining revenue, word of mouth, elevated goodwill or endless array of positive outcomes for your brand or product, but not be able to tell because it gets mixed in with the measurements from the more traditional methods. True action to outcome metrics really exist- how does one know that part of the spike in earnings during a tv ad push is actually incidental and comes from earlier word-of-mouth or viral efforts that are just now manifesting themselves in purchases?

Science (say chemistry, biology, mathematics) talks about direct, indirect, causal, related and coincidental relationships. The first three are generally the easiest to prove, but then, with science, it’s actually usually disproving that makes the advances. The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle rules: the more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa. It goes on to state (paraphrasing, of course): one can never discover the empirical truth without setting up false or contrived boundaries to measure a thing. Like focus groups, or revenue return during an ad spend (the ad spend period being the contrived boundary- there’s no way to know that it’s advertising that’s the end-all, be-all cause of anything).

Apologies, the nerd in me took the wheel for a bit, but the point is this: true ROI can only be known, or more accurately, felt over time. In current global business, that’s the one commodity that almost no one is willing to spend. Metrics for social media effectiveness as regards business will be developed, refined, thrown out and the process started all over again as technology and consumer habits evolve (or change).

In the meantime, this week’s article by Steven Baker in Business Week raises some very interesting questions, but does not overtly mention the most important: What is ROI (in any given instance) and how does one measure that?

Beware Social Media Snake Oil

Hordes of marketing “experts” are promoting the value of wikis, social networks, and blogs. All the hype may obscure the real potential of these online tools

By Stephen Baker

For business, the rising popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media Web sites presents a tantalizing opportunity. As millions of people flock to these online services to chat, flirt, swap photos, and network, companies have the chance to tune in to billions of digital conversations. They can pitch a product, listen to customer feedback, or ask for ideas. If they work it right, customers might even produce companies’ advertising for them and trade the ads with friends for free. Starbucks (SBUX), Dell (DELL), and Ford Motor (F) have all testified to the magic social media can create.

But the same tools carry risks. Employees encouraged to tap social networking sites can fritter away hours, or worse. They can spill company secrets or harm corporate relationships by denigrating partners. What’s more, with one misstep, one clumsy entrée, companies can quickly find themselves victims of the forces they were trying to master. Thousands of bloggers attacked Motrin last year because of an advertisement from the Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) brand they found demeaning to mothers.

Over the past five years, an entire industry of consultants has arisen to help companies navigate the world of social networks, blogs, and wikis. The self-proclaimed experts range from legions of wannabes, many of them refugees from the real estate bust, to industry superstars such as Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk. They produce best-selling books and dole out advice or lead workshops at companies for thousands of dollars a day. The consultants evangelize the transformative power of social media and often cast themselves as triumphant case studies of successful networking and self-branding.

The problem, according to a growing chorus of critics, is that many would-be guides are leading clients astray. Consultants often use buzz as their dominant currency, and success is defined more often by numbers of Twitter followers, blog mentions, or YouTube (GOOG) hits than by traditional measures, such as return on investment. This approach could sour companies on social media and the rich opportunities it represents. “It’s a bit of a Wild West scenario,” blogs David Armano, a consultant with the Dachis Group of Austin, Tex. Without naming names, he compares some consultants to “snake oil salesmen.”

Critics complain that many of the new experts have adopted an orthodoxy that provides little flexibility for differing situations—or outcomes. Their pronouncements follow a rigid gospel: Be transparent, engage with your customers, break down silos. Yet these strictures don’t always make business sense. Adam Kmiec, director of interactive marketing at Marc USA in Pittsburgh, tells of a company he met with that got much of its revenue from the Defense Dept. and had allocated $4 million for social media. “What do you hope to get?” he asked them. Ultimately, the client decided the privacy-obsessed Pentagon may not be thrilled with a supplier publicizing itself through Twitter.


Scrutiny of the hype merchants is picking up. Rob Spencer, senior research fellow for idea management at drug giant Pfizer (PFE), mingles frequently with social media vendors and consultants as he looks for ways to amplify the company’s brainpower. He urges caution. “You have to tread your way carefully and have your B.S. sensors up,” he says. “I call them innovation hippies. ‘Here’s my book for free. Won’t you hire me for $500 to run some workshops?'”

Social media consultants’ own promotions can collide, on occasion, with those of their customers. Take the case of James Andrews, who was working early this year at the PR firm Ketchum (OMC). As a consultant, he helped companies such as Newell Rubbermaid (NWL), Monster Worldwide (MWW), and FedEx (FDX) work out their strategies for blogs and the microblogging service Twitter. On landing in Memphis for FedEx meetings, he says he had an ugly run-in with a racist at the airport and twittered that he would “die if he had to live” in the city. The tweet produced an outpouring of blogged fury from FedEx employees and a fast apology from an embarrassed Ketchum. But for Andrews, the tweet generated buzz and may even have boosted his brand. “It helps me today,” he says. “I use it as a case study. It creates authenticity.” In June, Andrews left Ketchum to launch a boutique consultancy, Everywhere. He helps Macy’s (M), CNN (TWX), and Jane Fonda promote their brands and monitor their audiences on Facebook, blogs, and Twitter.

Skeptics can draw from plenty of examples of social media experiments run amok. Consider Saatchi & Saatchi’s ill-fated promotion for the Toyota (TM) Matrix. Targeting young men, a demographic known to resist traditional advertising, Saatchi’s social media team last year created a campaign based on the pranks of the popular MTV (VIA.B) show Punk’d. According to the plan, a prospective buyer of a Matrix would single out a friend to be the target of a prank. The promise: a bit of fear, a lot of laughs, and perhaps a groundswell of free marketing across Facebook, MySpace (NWS), and Twitter.

Amber Duick, one of the targets in the short-lived campaign, says she received a series of e-mails from a fictitious British soccer hooligan named Sebastian Bowler. He said he was coming to visit her and bringing along his pit bull. He had a MySpace page where he bragged about “drinking alcohol to excess” and participating in riots. One e-mail Duick received was a fake bill for damage to a hotel room wrecked by Bowler. He had left her e-mail address, the message explained, as his contact info. Duick filed a $10 million lawsuit in October and says that to protect herself from the oncoming Bowler, she slept with a machete by her bed. “She was terrified,” says her lawyer, Nicholas Tepper.

In a statement, Saatchi and Toyota wrote that they would “vigorously defend against the claim,” which is “entirely without merit.” They said the plaintiff had granted “her permission to receive campaign e-mails and other communications from Toyota.”


James Cooper, Saatchi’s digital creative director, says social media, by their nature, are unpredictable, which makes them an easy target for critics. “Anyone who says ‘This is going to work’ is either lying or deranged,” he says. He compares the risk model with venture capital, where one bet out of 10 might pay off richly, while the others struggle or even bomb. And he stresses the difficulty of measuring results. “If something’s got 20 million hits on YouTube, that’s a good thing,” he says. “But what if half the comments are negative? I don’t think anyone’s got a long-term case study yet.”

Baker is a senior writer for BusinessWeek in New York.


2009/12/04 at 18:19 1 comment

Snuggies: the 8th Wonder of the Modern World?

We’re all feeling the recession.  We’ve heard recently in the U.S. that it was over and the markets were stable, employers were just not hiring yet.  Then, it seemed things might not be so rosy.  This week brought rumors and reports that Dubai, Dubai, might be going bankrupt*.  In this increasingly intertwined global economy, every little up or down (or report of one) can have incredible ripple effects.

Imagine my surprise, then as I’ve recently returned to the States after an over-seas, TV-less assignment to see a new and expanded Snuggie infomercial.  At first I thought “ha, ha!  Snuggies in leopard print, just when I thought things could not get tackier!”  And then I started thinking about it: Snuggies are releasing a “designer line” of their product.  Unless it’s a marketing ruse to make the product’s profitability greater than it actually is, this meant something truly scary and of a significance I have yet to figure out: Snuggies are making money.  Making money, and enough to expand their product line.

For those of you that don’t know what a Snuggie is, yet are still here, I’ll try to explain.  In the States, and most English speaking nations, we have infomercials for products that seem to be completely superfluous, useless and usually are so ridiculous in their uselessness to the average consumer that they are laughable.  This particular product has been the latest in a long series of “As Seen On TV” products that have been lampooned and scoffed at in their inanity.

Essentially, It’s a blanket with arm holes, made of fleece.  The original advertisement points out how cumbersome and just plain inconvenient blankets and sweaters can be: you have to move your hands from under a blanket to, say knit, or answer the phone.  The actors seem have their spirits broken by this unfathomable act of uncovering their arms to perform menial tasks.  They can’t believe humanity has made it this far with such a burden.  But then!  Blessings!  Someone has invented a product that looks like a blanket with sleeves.  You can use your arms now!  You can lift the remote control from the couch without having to negotiate that insidious blanket.  A huge weight has been lifted and a milestone in the evolution of man has been reached.

As my 22 year old sister pointed out: it’s a robe you put on backwards.  That you pay a lot of shipping and handling for.

Everyone from news shows to parody programs (like The Soup and Saturday Night Live) and late night talk show hosts (Jay Leno, David Letterman) have all taken potshots at the Snuggie.  It’s just too absurd to believe, but too real not to mention.

Well, look who’s having the last laugh.  They know have leopard print.  And zebra print.  And camel (of course).  And THERE’S EVEN ONE FOR YOUR DOG.**

How can there be a recession, with reports of empty stores on New York’s always busy upper Broadway on Black Friday, and the run away success of a completely useless and superfluous product?  According to their website, they’ve sold over 4 million units in three months.  That means more than one percent of the US population has bought one in the last quarter.  Now, a lot of this is through TV marketing trickery (buying sets, up-selling, confusing ordering practices), but still.

Clearly half of this me joking, but it raises a real point: what in the french are consumers thinking?  We hear about belt tightening and foreclosures and bankruptcy, but the completely unnecessary products of the world go on, and do well.

It’s not marketing.  The ads are too targeted, too cheesy, too insignificant to have the impact they claim to have.  So I ask: what do you think drives consumers to these purchases when they are tightening budgets elsewhere?  It’s not escapist and it’s not essential.


* Dubai is also a cautionary tale of excess, proof of the adage of location, location, location and bubble budget spending (use it or lose it), but it’s a very serious development.

** I’m not making this up.  Please see the second video below- there’s one that combines both, but then you wouldn’t really be getting the full Snuggie experience.

Designer Snuggie Infomercial here (brings you to youtube)

And for your little dog, too infomercial (youtube)

2009/11/28 at 20:42 Leave a comment

Software companies are funny, too.

A friend of mine turned me on to this series of Norton Anti-virus ads. I had to climb up on top of a box to spit out water. Classy, I know, but the smart choice when one’s office is lousy with hardware.

The first pair of commercials features the highly underrated 80’s metal band with whom I had a deep, deep (one way) relationship when I was what is now referred to as a tween. The love began with their eponymous title song contribution to the return to excellence that was Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors, which was excellent, despite and in spite of, the casting of Patricia Arquette.

Anyhoo, there are a series of four commercials on YouTube, showing what happens when you allow bad things into your computer. The first Dokken one, the “allow” is kind of weak.

Now, I knew “Deny” would be better because I had seen Dokken as part of the legendary Monsters of Rock tour (at Giant’s Stadium, no less). These guys we no slouches, the line-up in which they were included was:
Kingdome Come
The Scorpions
Van Hagar

My neck muscles were toast for two weeks from the headbanging. It was that good.

Ah, youth.

Anyway, my faith was rewarded by the “Deny” version:

Now, in case you’re thinking I just have some giant Dokken hang-up (come on, that’s so 1987, there are a couple featuring UFC beast Kimbo Slice, which are better.


and, of course,

For substance about the product, I refer you thus (from PC Mag/ Ziff Davis):

Norton 2010 review

and, of course, Intel, which is also doing a rather interesting rebrand of its packaging using coding symbols.  more on that soon.

2009/09/16 at 20:11 1 comment



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