Posts filed under ‘reality’

Augmented (Demented?) Reality: Fictional B&B gives tripadvisor.com 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 tripadvisor.com’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

By STUART MILLER
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.
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2010/03/31 at 22:35 1 comment

Listen up, retailers: brands DO matter.

The resurgence of Trademarks and brand names as drivers (rather than set price points): another sign recession receding.

From The Street.com

Retailers Get Push-Back as Brands Disappear

by Jason Notte
Saturday, March 20, 2010
provided byTheStreet.com

As evidenced by Wal-Mart’s (WMT) attempt to streamline its shelf space, even garbage inspires brand loyalty among American consumers.

Earlier this month, Wal-Mart returned Clorox’s (CLX) Glad bags and Pactiv’s (PTV) Hefty bags to its shelves after cutting them in February and carrying only S.C. Johnson and Sons’ Ziploc bags and its Great Value in-house brand. Wal-Mart says the Hefty and Glad bags and hundreds of other items were taken out of the mix as part of a remodeling effort, but the retailer replaced them when it became clear it wasn’t losing only a $4.99 single-item sale, but entire shopping excursions by people seeking specific brands.

“What we found is that you can discontinue items that don’t sell but get you a trip,” said Bill Simon, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Consumer Conference last week. “So, we’ve been through the business and put 300 or so of those items back into the stores that were removed. We believe that that’s going to solve some of those issues.”

Other retailers including the SuperValu chain and CVS Caremark (CVS) are pushing ahead and slimming their selection of stock-keeping units. Wal-Mart’s recent retreat may not be enough to mollify manufacturers from Pepsi (PEP) to Kimberly-Clark (KMB), who have the most to lose when stores slash SKUs.

“They would have to be nervous about it,” says Susan Reda, editor of STORES Magazine, which is published by the National Retail Federation. “It’s the manufacturer that has more to lose, and if you’re not a tier 1 or tier 2 company, you’re in a dicey state.”

One of the ripple effects of the economic recession was an almost industry-wide reduction of retail inventory. Wal-Mart, for example, trimmed its U.S. inventory by more than 7.5% last year, in part, to prevent the overstock and price plunges that punished the sector in late 2008. The result for manufacturers varied as widely as their products.

For instance, Colgate-Palmolive’s (CL) sales grew 12% last quarter, including a 5% jump in North America behind the launch of new Colgate products. Procter & Gamble (PG) and its Bounty paper towels, Duracell batteries, Crest toothpaste and Ivory soap, meanwhile, reported a better-than-expected 6% sales increase last quarter as its gross margins and outlook for the fiscal year improved.

“The whole idea of efficient assortment and giving more shelf space to the brands shoppers are looking for the most tends to improve visibility of existing and new items,” says Jennifer Chelune, a Procter & Gamble spokeswoman. “It favors companies that innovate.”

Meanwhile, Kimberly-Clark (KMB) and its Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers and Scott and Viva paper towels saw sales rise 8.5% in the quarter, but the company reduced its 2010 earnings forecast as sales of core paper products fell 6% when consumers sought cheaper alternatives. Its stock price followed that downward trend. If that’s the pressure being felt by the maker of the tissue that the NRF’s 2009-2010 BIGResearch Consumer Intentions and Actions Surveys say is their favorite brand by an 18% margin, the burden on manufacturers that are lower on the food chain is even heavier.

“Unless you have come up with a product that’s such a standout and so different from the market, you’re not going to make it if you’re just another iteration of ketchup,” STORES Magazine’s Reda says. “If you’re number three or number four in that space, what’s going to set you apart from those other two?”

That fight gets tougher when store brands join in. According to the NPD Group, sales of private-label items increased 8.8% from 2008 to 2009 and nearly 18% during the past decade. Nielsen found that store brands brought in $86 billion in U.S. sales last year, up $14 billion since 2007. With Consumer Reports finding that store brands, on average, cost 27% less than their big-brand counterparts, such a surge can eat away at sales volume for companies like Del Monte (DLM) and Unilever (UN), with the NRF survey reporting that the No. 2 brands of vegetables and ice cream are store/generic products.

However, many retailers still depend on manufacturers to pay for displays at the end of aisles and other prime shelf space, making private-label products a limited option for retailers not named Trader Joe’s. While manufacturers tend to use this knowledge to their advantage and flood the floor with billboard-sized displays of their merchandise, a slimmed-down store selection can be easily expanded through E-commerce. Procter & Gamble, for instance, is using its eStore commerce site as an “online learning lab” to test consumers’ habits and relay that information to online retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon (AMZN).

“We are a house of brands,” Wal-Mart’s Simon said at the conference. “We prefer to sell national brands because that’s how we can differentiate ourselves in price better.”

Copyrighted, TheStreet.Com. All rights reserved.

2010/03/20 at 17:51 Leave a comment

For the record…

I am very, very pro- social media and SM marketing, despite my somewhat skeptical recent posts.

The bubble will burst (the backlash is already coming, with teens leading the way by slashing their Facebook communities),

I’m advocating smart and sustainable social media tactics and planning, not that it doesn’t work.   I believe it does, but understanding how and why and when is important, and should be investigated more instead of just accepting as truth.  In these relatively early stages, we measure by followers and retweets, not by results (many marketers aren’t even sure what those are, unless they run a social-media-buzz-only business, or are coordinated, big-budget, campaigns à la Hasbro and Tribal BBD for Monopoly City Streets).

I’ve seen real results from FB, Twitter and LinkedIn, but we’ve all also seen more “Social Media Experts” than there are tweets, and as an industry we need to be smart about our business, our jobs and our futures.

2010/01/07 at 22:30 Leave a 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

Augmented Reality Advertising Is Here

Augmented Reality Advertising Is Here

Augmented reality and geo-location really started to gain steam in 2009, and we expect to see even more developments in 2010. Geo-location in particular has really compelling opportunities when it comes to advertising. Already businesses are discovering the benefits they can gain by engaging and promoting services via Foursquare — it was really only a matter of time before bigger companies would start to take notice.

Posted using ShareThis

2009/12/21 at 18:22 1 comment


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