Monday 29 October 2012

Marketing Mascot Marvels

They’re the quirky, cute and colourful creatures designed to give brands a touch of character. And while many brand mascots have taken a back seat over the last decade, they are now re-emerging into the marketer’s must-have handbook.
Just ask Ronald McDonald. He first appeared in McDonald’s advertising in 1963 and is probably the most iconic marketing mascot ever. When I was at school I had a sticker of him on my maths textbook. But since the turn of the century, medical experts and family groups rallied to have him removed from McDonald’s advertising, blaming him for the rise in childhood obesity. McDonald’s executives obliged, reducing Ron's profile. But they've recently announced that Ronald is back and bigger (in stature, not weight) than ever. The company has committed to his focal presence in upcoming campaigns. Mortein‘s 'Louie the Fly’ also recently faced extinction, this time at the hands of its own creators. They threatened to kill him off, but in the end Louie was saved by consumers voting on Facebook to keep him.

Marketers say mascots help personify brands, allowing a deeper connection with consumers. The ‘Chesty Bond’ guy has spruiked Bonds singlets since 1938 and developed a cult status in Australian garment manufacturing. The Duracell bunny is the friendly, fluffy face of a battery empire. The Rice Bubbles mascots ‘Snap, ‘Crackle’ and ‘Pop’ play alongside the Fruit Loops ‘Toucan Sam’, Frosties ‘Tony the Tiger’ and the YoGO gorilla in making food marketing child’s play.


And there’s a new breed of mascot emerging. The Dodo internet bird, ING’s orangutan and the Sensis sock-puppet are all attempts to make complex or boring services fun. These modern mascots may fade fast, but the marketers who created them no doubt hope they might just become the next Ronald McDonald.

Friday 10 August 2012

Pedestrian Pointless Posting

You may not have realised it yet, but social media is slowly destroying itself. Usage of sites like Twitter and Facebook may be rising, but growth is starting to slow. And one of the major reasons is mundane, mindless updates and tweets.

I’m no expert, and there is no ‘correct’ way to use social media, but these days many users simply post the very first thing that comes into their mind; "When will it stop raining?," "Happy Friday!" or; "I'm tired." There is no doubt, it can be nice to hear what our friends and contacts are up to without actually speaking to them personally, but these kind of generic, pedestrian posts are not adding any value, and they're definitely not worth sharing with hundreds or thousands of people on social media.

Twitter and Facebook have given everyone the opportunity to have an audience. That is a beautiful thing. But too many are abusing the privilege. Every time I log into these sites I’m disappointed by a whole range of pointless posts, and I’m not alone. A recent study by The Harvard Business Review showed 64% of tweets are ‘boring’, and 25% are ‘not worth reading’. A separate study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology had similar findings.

I believe the problem is getting worse. The London Olympics has helped demonstrate this. I’m sorry to say it, but just because you’re enjoying watching the Games, it doesn’t mean all your followers and friends should be subjected to your running Olympics commentary. It’s great that Steve Solomon did well in the 400 meters, but with all respect, we don’t need to see you write it. The strange thing is many compulsive social media users are actually very shy people in the real world. When you see them face to face you’re lucky if they say hello, but online you can barely escape them.

Yes, we want to see photos from your weekend, and yes, we want to hear your jokes and views on various news and issues. But, no, we don't want to hear that you had toast for breakfast and, no we don't care about the mindless hourly updates of how your day is going. Just because you are thinking or doing something, it doesn’t mean you need to share it with everyone else. For celebrities it’s a slightly different story. They can get away with it to some extent, but the rest of us need to start exercising some restraint. Please!

Sure, everyone has the power to unfollow or unfriend someone guilty of unnecessary posts, but if they're a colleague or good friend it can be a drastic and awkward step to take. Already our newsfeeds are clogged with random ads and spam, and now increasingly they are also being filled with a sea of worthless tweets and posts. As a result social media doesn’t seem as exciting as it used to be. And sadly, its credibility is being dismantled, tweet by tweet.

Monday 30 July 2012

Olympic Social Media Overload

When the London Olympic cauldron was lit, Channel Nine's Eddie McGuire predictably proclaimed: "Let the games begin!" Then, moments later, my twitter newsfeed became clogged with those very same words. There'd already been a painful live-tweeting marathon throughout the Opening Ceremony. Scores of tweeters took it upon themselves to commentate as each new country entered the arena.

During previous Olympics, cries of support for Aussie athletes came mainly from family and friends in my lounge room. Now they come from virtually everywhere, dominating social media, as though the whole world had come to an Olympic standstill.

I've always been inspired by the efforts and commitment of our athletes, but by day 3 of London 2012, I had a bad case of Olympics overload.

Retailers have always jumped onto the Olympic bandwagon in a bid to help promote their goods and services. A visit to any shopping centre during Olympics' gone by was a testament to that. But now social media is giving everyone a powerful new frontier to share the intricate details of their Olympic news and views.

London 2012 was lauded as the 'Social Media Olympics' and seeing posts and updates from the athletes themselves has been insightful and refreshing. But as for everyone else, I recommend leaving the commentary to Eddie McGuire. One of him is enough.

"Let the games begin!"

Monday 16 July 2012

The Pop-Up Pretenders

They popped up in 2002. Tiny, temporary stores that promised a new, quirky way to shop. Since then many brands have tried to jump on the pop-up shop bandwagon, including big names like Disney, Prada, Reebok and Diet Coke. But many others have failed miserably.

Samsung's PIN London pop-up shop ticks the boxes through its visually appealing, interactive and engaging nature

These ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ shops allow retailers to avoid expensive long- term shop rents. They can go in search of new customers rather than wait, in hope, that new customers will come to them. And they can test new markets before potentially opening up a proper bricks and mortar outlet. But just 'setting up shop' in a new, temporary location doesn't always cut it. Retail analysts say pop-up shops need to be fun, friendly and offer something different to conventional outlets.

Australian optical chain Specsavers didn't quite master the art of the pop-up with its temporary shops in Westfield shopping centres. While its bright and colourful showrooming (below) may have expanded its reach temporarily, it looked nothing more than a change of location and failed to surprise and engage consumers.

Specsavers' attempt shows that to be successful, pop-up shops should appear in an unexpected location, or at least offer some element of surprise

Conversely, Sunglass Hut (owned by Luxottica Group) launched a four-day floating pop-up shop, complete with a DJ, on Sydney Harbour in November last year. CEO Chris Beer was very happy with the result. He says; "Retail is no longer just about four walls and a door and you cannot go past Sydney Harbour for an outdoor store – you would be hard pressed to find a better setting for selling sunglasses in the sun."

One of the 3 Darling Harbour locations where Sunglass Hut used pop-up shops to showcase exclusive collections

Fashion Streetwear retailer General Pants (below) has cleverly used modified shipping containers to sell merchandise at music festivals, a perfect way to engage with its music-loving youth market.

Streetwear retailer General Pants positions its unique pop-up shops at music festivals such as Splendour in the Grass

But when clothing brand Bonds tried to jump on the pop- up bandwagon they had limited success with their uninspiring offerings in Myer centres.

Bonds failed to deliver intrigue, exclusivity or surprise in its Myer pop-up shops
Groups of pop-ups have been known to transform an environment into a cultural and creative hub. The City of Perth has pioneered a 3-month '140 Pop-Up Project' around the CBD to bring together and showcase artistic talent in art, fashion and design.

Perth's 140-William Street development consisted of a 3-month cultural pop-up hub
One decade on, and the pop-up concept is now in full swing, with mixed results. Some pop-up entrepreneurs have complained they’ve become too gimmicky and "there's been an influx in pop-up's that miss the point and neglect to surprise customers with their offerings" (Canadian food entrepreneur Amin Todai). New York furniture pop-up entrepreneur Christina Norsig wisely warns that consumers are starting to show signs of 'pop-up fatigue'. Because when something fun and unique like the pop-up is overdone, or exploited, consumers will come and go in much the same way as the retail channel itself.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Poor Taste in Publicity

Food manufacturers will do almost anything to attract attention. They'll even serve up bizarre food concoctions aimed at leaving a nasty taste in their consumers' mouths. Foods mixing sweet, savoury, and/or sour ingredients are being embraced for their curiosity and free media headlines, not because they are pleasant to eat. In fact the manufacturers barely expect them to sell.

Burger King recently launched a limited edition bacon sundae (below), with vanilla soft serve with fudge, caramel, bacon crumbles and a piece of bacon. Yes, that's right, vanilla ice cream and bacon! There are few doubts the product is only being consumed by the most adventurous fast food junkies, but that doesn't matter, because its launch made news around the world.

Last week a trendy South Yarra bakery in Melbourne employed the same tactic, launching bacon-infused doughnuts (below).

One of Australia's most popular foods, Vegemite, has also featured in some absurd creations. Most disgustingly, the American frozen yogurt chain Tasti D-Lite featured Vegemite flavored ice-cream. And last year Smith's Potato Chips tested our taste buds with Vegemite flavored chips. Not surprisingly they were only available for 12 weeks.

Finally, the not-so-humble hamburger has been massacred by just about every country on Earth. There are endless opportunities for alterations to ingredients, appearance and composition. KFC's 'Cheese-top Burger' (below) was dubbed the 'World's Dumbest Burger' after it was released in The Philippines.

Also the 'Darth Vader Burger' featuring a black bun (below) is the work of European fast-food chain 'Quick'.

Modern consumers are known to be drawn to the unknown, the unheard of and the gross. Even if they don't try it or buy it, the social buzz surrounding weird creations is giving food marketers a lingering taste for success.

Monday 18 June 2012

What Makes People Stick

It takes a special kind of person to decorate their car's back window or bumper with a sticker. Yes, it's often older cars that get plastered with paraphernalia, but not always. If you're prepared to risk damaging the duco on your car, you must be very committed to the sticker's cause.

Cult Status or Inspirational Messages
There's an underlying cult status attached to the widely shown purple 'Magic Happens' stickers. But it's hard to know what they actually represent. Spirituality? Science fiction? Fantasy? Witchcraft? I doubt even those displaying the stickers know. But that doesn't stop them jumping on the Magic Happens bandwagon, in the hope that some kind of magic will happen to them.

Sporting Club, School or Special Interest Groups
AFL, NRL, and other sporting club stickers are widely prevalent, particularly on utes and tradie vans. Successful teams get a good representation, and funnily enough drivers displaying the St Kilda AFL sticker often look miserable at the wheel. Parents of school kids proudly display their school logos, particularly if they are expensive private schools. Environmental groups also love their car stickers (How often do you see the green Greenpeace ones?!)

The Aggressive, Intimidating and Offensive Take
Seeing a 'Back Off' sticker actually makes you want to tail-gate the offending car. Until of course you realise they are a bearded, possibly toothless, singlet-wearing, tatted-up guy. Similarly, 'If you can read this you're too close' and 'If you can't see my mirror I can't see you' messages are often embraced by aggressive and intimidating truck or van drivers with a chip on their shoulder.

Family Oriented Statements
Like the 'Magic Happens' stickers, the 'My Family' stick figures are well-known and widely hated. Several articles and blogs I've seen have said in response 'I don't give a #$%^ what your family is.' 'Mum's Taxi', 'Baby on Board' are also a hit, primarily with bad, dangerous and selfish drivers who drive as if family values are the least thing on their mind.

If you think you've seen every possible car decoration creation, driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic can surprise you. Fluffy toys dangling from the rear-view mirror; Hello Kitty collections at the back window; and recently spotted, licence plates customised for each star-sign. At least it makes the drive home entertaining.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Keep Calm and Avoid the Hysteria

Exactly what is the origin of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ motto adorning posters and merchandise worldwide? If you haven't seen it, you don't get out enough.

The motto actually dates back to the Second World War when King George VI was in power. The Ministry of Information (MOI) was formed by the British Government and responsible for publicity and propaganda. A number of posters with morale-boosting slogans were created and displayed across Britain, but the popular ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ slogan was never officially seen by the public. It was only to be released upon Germany’s invasion of Britain, which didn’t happen. It was eventually discovered and reproduced by historians. And, thanks to modern marketing, this slogan has now become a British icon.

This is nice, because in a subtle way it recognises an appreciation for British troops. But it's also nice for all the companies jumping on the bandwagon using it in their slogans. The words on the original propaganda poster have been trivialised by their use on everything from t-shirts to lame office coffee mugs and even iphone covers.

As an Australian consumer I only became aware of these products last year, and I was immediately curious about their success. The original slogan has evolved to reflect more peaceful times. Latest additions include: Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes, Keep Calm and Drink Up, Keep Calm and Cuddle Up. Some of these products have cheekily replaced the iconic crown figure on the authentic 'Keep Calm and Carry On' branding, with a logo of their own. And there's been a whole range of copy cat designs appearing worldwide, desperately trying to stand out from the crowd.

It'd be safe to say that most consumers familiar with all, or any, of these products don't even know the slogan's original identity. Which is a shame.