How Marketing Technology Devoured Our Culture

Posted on Categories Thought Leadership

It seems almost surreal that the Edison Awards were initially introduced nearly three decades ago. But, as its founding father, I have as “proof devices” many fond memories from the association and a receding hairline. Over the past three decades of Edison Awards, the currents of time have given us significant and remarkable shifts in marketing (demography, technology, etc.).  It would be foolhardy to attempt covering them all. So since this is my turf, I’ll do a little cherry picking focused on a few touch points that impact how we live our lives and function in the trenches of marketing.

Forgive me if I miss a few of your favorites.


It’s a Brand New World: In the early formative years of the Edison Awards, we encountered a brand resurgence. America’s first brand was Ivory soap born in 1878 with a fortuitous product benefit––it floated, because it was lighter than water, the result of a flaw in the manufacturing process. Soon consumers began demanding the “soap that floats,” leading to the brand’s legendary advertising slogan “it floats.”  Later Ivory was further energized with a new claim “99and 44/100 percent pure” creating one of the most recognized slogans in advertising history.

Other brands followed Ivory, but companies who owned them didn’t understand them, taking their brands portfolios for granted. While the companies thought they were manufacturing products what consumers purchased were brands. If Coke had understood the DNA of their flagship brand, it never would have ventured into New Coke, an ill-advised replacement for the parent brand.

Two things changed the aura of neglect. Phillip Morris forked over $12.6 billion for the acquisition of Kraft––six times more than the company was worth on its balance sheet. The explanation from the Phillip Morris CEO for the hefty purchase price,” We bought Kraft for its brands.”  Young & Rubicam and Interbrand developed mathematical models that determined the brand worth regarding dollars. Suddenly names became assets after decades of neglect: they had stored value reflected in their brand equity and financial worth.

Company CEO’s began talking publically, extolling the virtues of their brands.  Ad agency staffs ramped up with anthropologists, positioned as brand architects, ready to uncover the emotional ties that made client unique. Anything could be “branded.” Three ad executives remarked in an essay, “Based on extensive research; we would argue that you can indeed brand not only sand, but also glass, wheat, beef, brick, metals, concrete, chemicals, corn grits, and an endless variety of commodities traditionally considered immune to the branding process.” The only item left out by these confident persuaders–– turnips.

The Rise and Decline of the Wonder Drug: The Rise and Decline of the Wonder Drug: The high lords of marketing discovered the Holy Grail of mass communication in the late 50’s, television with its massive reach became the wonder drug, where eighty percent of US households could be reached by putting a thirty-second TV commercial on the three networks. It was a communication strategy that agencies and their clients would ride for almost six decades. While the creative executions might differ, every client got the same solution––a healthy dose of a 30 second TV spot.

Advertising flourished in a period labeled “The Creative Era”. Bernbach made America think small with his ads for Volkswagen. Alka Seltzer became the most advertised brand in the US. David Ogilvy put an eye patch on a debonair looking gentlemen in print ads and Hathaway shirts flew off the store shelves of America. The Marlboro man surfaced from the corridors of Leo Burnett. Hair color sales at Clairol soared 450 percent fueled by Shirley Polykoff’s now famous tagline: “Does She or Doesn’t She?”

Nothing lasts forever. After a long comfortable residency, the wonder drug was vanquished with the arrival of a new kid on the block–– social media.

EWOM: As humans, we thirst for conversations and discussions with others, share information with friends and relatives and from collaborations with close associates. As marketers, we have always known that word of mouth communication was more impactful than mass communication about a product or service, but there was no framework available to “get the word out that Tony is the best plumber in town” until EWOM (Electronic Word of Mouth) entered center stage.

A significant consequence of social media is the general shift, fueled by EWOM, from one-to-one communication to many-to-many communication. Instead of putting an ad on TV waiting for the wonder drug to work its magic, the brand can now use direct feedback from EWOM to have conversations with current and potential customers, forge deeper relationships, and build a base of brand advocates. In turn, EWOM allows consumers to connect with each other, share points of view and collaborate on new ideas based on mutual interests.

Here’s a brief case history of EWOM’s power.  Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice was a tired old brand withering away as a result of several years of declining sales in the mature and highly competitive men’s grooming products category (like body wash and deodorant ). Ad agency Wieden + Kennedy was called in to resuscitate Old Spice.

The agency developed a campaign “the man your man could smell like” using a former NFL football player Isaiah Mustafa, a hunk with a dreamboat body, pearly white teeth, and an engaging smile. The ad aired online during the Super Bowl and generated wide viewership.

But here’s the EWOM touch that made Mustafa and Old Spice a pop cultural phenomenon.  Old Spice solicited questions for Mustafa via Twitter and Facebook and then had their “Old Spice Guy” answer the questions via relatively short video clips (almost 200 to be exact) on YouTube. The clips went viral, viewed by hundreds of million obsessed Mustafa fans, making the Old Spice YouTube channel one of the most popular channels. The results from EMOM on steroids: Old Spice sales increased 107 percent––– note this is not a typo. The brand “ended up with more than a million Facebook fans, thousands of Twitter followers, higher Web site traffic and press coverage close to one billion impressions.”  Nobody misses the wonder drug.

More Precise Targeting: More Precise Targeting:  The capacity to target consumers with more precision making it even more useful is digital technology’s dominant contribution to the communication process. Technology enables impression based targeting to focus on specific customer criteria like, for example, families planning vacations to Florida, with the opportunity to bid in real time to reach these designated user profiles online. Each person contacted is viewed as an impression or eyeball. John Wanamaker, an early marketing legend, once remarked, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the problem is I don’t know which half.” If you advertise a dog food brand on Dancing with the Stars, there is considerable waste and inefficiency, since two-thirds of the program viewers are not dog owners. Impression based targeting identifies which halves of the ad budget are lost and enables marketers to create messages directed toward those who are more likely to become customers.

picture4Once the consumer profiles are purchased by advertisers, let the games begin. The profiles go into the browsers of our computers and follow us online and keep reminding us about the products and services that we expressed interest in. The follow-up is unrelenting with the ads showing up on our computers for weeks. Some view the incessant follow-up as a form of electronic stalking. Others take a more favorable position that the navigational pursuit of our credit cards directly helps us make more informed purchase decisions about products.

Since the internet was morphing into an advertising sewer, the FTC recommended to Congress that browsers should have a do not track mechanism to tidy up the targeting playing field a bit. The commercial persuaders–––– think Google and others–––– were less than excited about tinkering with the goose that laid their golden eggs. The FTC recommendation, while entirely feasible, floated off to the trash bin never to be seen again, a not unusual fate considering the political clout of the companies impacted by the “FTC’s meddling” with their mother load.

There are no secrets out there. The commercial persuaders with their targeting skills know everything about our lives (vacation plans, shoe size, etc.). Nevertheless, we embrace the technology available to us and have evolved into “the always on” generation. The first thing we do in the morning–––– check our email. And the beat goes on throughout the day. About two-fifths of us never go into stores anymore.  We research the products online and buy the products online. Sixty-one percent of TV viewers check email while watching programs while another forty-seven percent are visiting social networks. Teens spend about 82 hours a week turned in electronically across a range of devices. Busy! Busy! Active listening, talking and sending emails.

And finally, the day ends for “the always-on generation.” Wait! Make sure all the mobile devices are amped up for the “on day” tomorrow.  Good night.

Who’s the Boss? : The three amigos––– Jawed, Chad, and Steve––– were flushed with cash having help launch Pay Pal. Why not roll the dice again with an internet site that accepts and shares short video clips. Smells a bit like YouTube doesn’t it? YouTube was launched on April 23, 2005 with a nineteen-second video developed by the three founders. The first video titled Me at the Zoo passes unnoticed like a ship in the dark of the night. In the weeks ahead, the three founders beg friends, relatives, neighbors and anyone else that would listen for video content to no avail. Even money and bribes fail to work. YouTube still was not yet a destination.

196531129_403ee25cc1The magic moment surfaces when demo videos start showing up staring Mentos mints and Diet Coke. Plop the mint into a glass of Diet Coke. Watch a sticky, geyser-like explosion as the two combined elements meet and greet. Each new video tries to outperform the earlier YouTube submissions. Even David Lettermen sought to beat the record for geyser height. You reach the apex of pop culture when Lettermen, or his evening counterparts, do their thing with your thing. “By 2008, the top three Mentos/Diet Coke videos had 11 million hits on Youtube.” The viral video had leaped off the launching pad.

Diet Coke went bonkers as the videos garnered widespread attention, viewing the demo as bordering on the fringes of product disparagement. It’s not kind of publicity that Coke needs or wants. On the other hand, melancholy Mentos kicked off their sandals and enjoyed the free ride. It was Diet Coke’s first encounter with earned media, a relatively new term in the marketing vernacular. Media is earned through word of mouth or online buzz about something the brand is doing. A small brand like Mentos immediately recognized the value of free media. Despite their initial hostility, I am sure Coke would be very satisfied with 11 million hits on YouTube today.

In another viral video scenario, a Domino’s employee spits into the pizza dough and uploads the vulgar act on YouTube. It immediately goes viral with unintended consequences. There is an avalanche of negative customer comments about product quality. The sauce tastes like ketchup. The cardboard box that delivers the pizza tastes better than the pizza inside. YouTube videos don’t go away. Senior executives monitored social media and were appalled at the brutal feedback. It is astonishing that senior management was so utterly clueless. Social media is free consumer research. Use it to illuminate the darkness.

Digital technology has advanced so rapidly allowing almost anyone today to create videos and effects that otherwise would have required going into a professional studio a decade ago. Consumer-generated videos do not need elaborate, expensive props. Think about the basic elements in the Mentos demo–––– a bottle of Diet Coke, glass, and a few mints to achieve EWOM. Parodies of award-winning ad campaigns can be quickly dumped into YouTube “twisting and reconfiguring them and sending them back to the source in virtually unrecognizable form.” The rules in the ad game have been rewritten––– where advertisers talk to consumers and users with deafening voices talk back to the advertisers in real time.

So who’s the boss? We are! Consumer generated content often puts us in control of the message, the medium, the response, or all three.

So buckle up your seat belts. We have barely scratched the surface of social media’s potential and impact.The rate of change in social media is mind-boggling––– usage statistics change daily for power sites like Facebook and Twitter. And much more consumer generated content is on the way. Moreover, the Edison Awards will be there to recognize the product and service excellence that surfaces from this ever-changing marketing landscape shaping and altering how we live our lives.

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