Something very special, and a very long time in the making, is launching Wednesday, December 12. I'm very proud of this, so stay tuned for full details!
Many pundits are applauding the Taco Bell 'Steal a Base, Steal a Taco' contest during the two opening games of the 2007 World Series. It is a great promotional idea, and Taco Bell did a great job in marketing the contest. Here's how it worked: if a player steals a base, Taco Bell promises to give anyone in the US a free taco (retail value 77 cents). Sounds impressive, and they got lots of coverage when Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury stole second base last week in game 2. Millions of Americans suddenly had Taco Bell front and centre, and the brand was wonderfully linked to a euphoric emotional moment. But then the whole enchilada fell apart. Thanks to the accountants, lawyers and risk-averse operations guys. There is of course a catch to the whole promotion: you can only get your free Taco between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. today. Not lunchtime, not dinnertime, not on the weekend, not the day after the base was stolen...but today, a Tuesday. Probably the slowest sales period of the slowest day for Taco sales. The money guys will be happy: redemptions of those 77 cent tacos will plummet. And so disappears another great opportunity for Taco Bell to capitalize on this great marketing idea and move beyond their commodity position. Instead, they've probably disappointed and disillusioned hundreds of thousands of potential repeat consumers. Ouch. Oh, and they spent about $6 million just to publicize the contest. What surprises me most is the groundswell of admiration from the marketing industry. Yes, it was a great idea, but look beyond the creative for a moment and think through to the real end result: the brand just disenchanted hundreds of thousands of people, squandering an opportunity to deliver a remarkable experience. All to save a lousy 77 cents. Where's the smart thinking there?
Can I get an amen? Everyone wants to know if Arcade Fire can three-peat and retain and extend their unique sound. The short answer is yes, Neon Bible is just as fin de siecle as Funeral and their self-titled debut. The long answer is that Neon Bible is a spiritual, boisterous gem.
Intervention, the first single and album master track is an epic driven by a Bach-quality organ dirge. Ocean of Noise is a surprisingly traditional love song with a beguiling bass track. Keep The Car Running and Antichrist Television Blues are breathless standouts - fiddlefull of hustle and rhythm and protest. Black Mirror is an ominous rumble of a song. The usual circus of instruments (Hurdy Gurdy anyone?) and multi-instrumentalist flamboyance give this album that familiar Arcade Fire sonic timbre. It's everything you may have loved about previous Arcade Fire revelations - naked emotion, decadent nostalgia, military percussion, a touch of gothic lushness, and above all free-spirited passion.
The Deluxe CD version (how quaint), comes with 2 flipbooks - an animated neon bible logo and a foggy grayscale loop of swimmers flailing for direction in black water, while the vinyl LP version is accompanied by a download coupon for an MP3 version. Singer Win Butler has found his muse, wife and dramatic foil in Régine Chassagne. He's from Texas, she's from Haiti, jubilant musical chaos ensues in church halls across Quebec. And we're all the richer.
2006 has been an uninspiring year for traditional Direct Response. Very few innovative strategies, creative or media have been unveiled. Which is why I'm awarding the 2006 Direct Marketer os the Year Award to amazon.com. This company simply executes true direct response marketing better than most traditional marketers. Here's why they've earned the award:
2. The data is used instantly, and recurringly. One of the great promises of Direct Response is the wealth of information that can be used to fine-tune offers, timing and creative. This fresh data however, is rarely used quickly enough before it stale-dates. Amazon implements the learning immediately, and then uses it in short, focussed e-mail campaigns: e.g. "Dear Amazon.com Customer, we've noticed that customers who have expressed interest in Envisioning Information by Edward R. Tufte have also ordered Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites by Peter Morville. For this reason, you might like to know that Peter Morville's Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites is now available. You can order your copy for just $26.39 ($13.60 off the list price) by following the link below." I've bolded the magic phrases showing this process in action. The result is that truly relevant information is delivered directly to me in a relevant medium, with a value message and quick link to a one click purchase.
3. Every interaction reinforces the online advantage. Why buy online? Amazon chips away at the old school benefits of a bricks & mortar bookstore. The community benefits of product recommendations, the suggested bundling for greater savings, the 'search inside' feature enabling product previewing...all that's missing is the instant delivery.
Aside from these three core strategies, they have also unleashed a flurry of innovative services and technologies: plogs, registries, The Mechanical Turk, Elastic Compute Cloud, Amazon Unbox, Amazon Films, Amazon Fishbowl (with Bill Maher), Amazon Connect and a few other intriguing extensions.
The despot King is dead. Times New Roman, the default font for billions of documents has been dethroned. Calibri is the new default font for Microsoft Office 2007. It's a good typeface - scalable, efficient, legible at small sizes but...it's a sans serif face. The writer in me cringes at the tide of sans serif paragraphs about to be unleashed by authors who fear exploring the font menu. Call me a Victorian Luddite (or worse), but I believe that serifs encourage readability in long offline texts, while sans serifs are better for online reading (which tends shorter). Very few designers and art directors truly embrace this - preferring the block cleanliness of a sans serif paragraph whenever and wherever. Yes, there are competing academic studies claiming legibility victory for the sans and serif camps, but no clear scientific consensus has arisen. Until it does, I'll toast the death of Times, and replace it not with Calibri, but with a well-kerned Caslon, Garamond or Hoefler.
My trusty Canon PowerShot s400 just died an inexplicable death. Probably something to do with the salt water in Montenegro. Or the kids. But rather than simply let it tarnish in a dustry drawer, I thought to take a closer look inside. What amazed me most was that, after loosening 20-something miniscule screws the camera simply UNFOLDS. It's an astonishing bit of silicon origami. I didn't need to cut any ribbons, break and solder or permanently damage anything to get all the major components completely unravelled. And the final kicker is that the self-contained imaging unit (lens, autofocus and senor), when completly disconnected from the rest of the camera...still looks like a mini camera. True beauty in the details. Enjoy the photos.
Last week, Marketing Magazine and the Direct Marketing Association of Toronto asked for my opinions on the key trends for creativity in Direct Marketing in 2007. I offered up six, ever the optimist. While these are primarily focussed on the Canadian industry, a few are definately appropriate for the US and Western Europe. Here's the unexpurgated version...
1. Ramping up online integration
...Our clients are not only using e-mail as a response-lifting followup to a mail campaign, but are changing their web content to use our harder-working DM sales messaging, rather than simple brochure-ware. The net result is that the web generates sales, not just lift.
2. Anti-skepticism (i.e. the 'Reality Show' of Direct Marketing!)
...There has always been a healthy dose of skepticism towards advertising, but it's reached the critical point for some core DM products. For example, credit card solicitation response rates have tumbled (from an avg. 3.5% in 1992 to 0.3% in 2005) as mail volumes have soared (from 900 million in 1992 to 6 billion in 2004). To combat this, I see a trend towards creative that is more pragmatic about the choices consumers face.
3. True brand support and extension
...This goes way beyond picking up images from a brand ad campaign. Finally, there's clear buy-in from clients to use the single most powerful sales message and run it in all channels - print ads, online, DM, radio. There's the understanding that good DM will build your brand just as well as a Globe & Mail print campaign. I think that mythical line in 'below the line' is finally beginning to fade!
4. Offline-exclusive content
...Information gets stale-dated quicker than ever as consumers stop waiting to be forcefed information through their mailbox, and do their research online via blogs, corporate websites and user forums. I see successful DM campaigns that have offline-only content (e.g. a Test Drive Toolkit with tangible things like a leg-room tape measure to enrich the real-world buying process)
5. Cry Wolf
...this one has been around for a while, but I think now the consequences are starting to come to light. Some clients believe that the best way to get their DM opened is to put just a corporate logo on the outside, or otherwise masquerade the solicitation as a bill or 'important notification'. Sure it'll fool some of the people some of the time, but do we really want to be tricking our customers into opening an envelope and then being angered that they've been fooled? That sure isn't going to boost response rates. I see a trend back to creating compelling messaging outside, rather than trickery.
6. Master the billing / fulfillment channel
...2007 is going to be the start of richer billing and fulfillment package experiences. Too many times these 'operational' channels (a monthly bill, annual invoice, delivery of new credit card plastic etc.) have no customer retention and upsell intention whatsoever. It's high time to make them a marketing function, with measurable customer relationship enhancement metrics.
I recently had the privilege of attending the HSM World Business Forum at the inspiring Radio City in New York. The undercurrent theme was leadership and transformation. All of the speakers shared their unique approaches to managing. Rudy Giuliani spoke of his 6 tenets of leadership, Larry Bossidy talked about 6-sigma and honesty, Jack Welch gruffly entertained the audience with directives to lead with clarity and openness. The well-haired Malcolm Gladwell recapped his book The Tipping Point, while Colin Powell and Bill Clinton talked global peace policies. Overall, it was a rare treat to see these 'Captains of Industry' talk about what their public and private experiences had taught them over their various careers. The critical takeaway for me was the affirmation that business is personal, relationships will trump everything (even price), and that performance without metrics is simply a guesisng game. I'm not doing justice to all of the rich lessons and advice offered at the forum, but I'll be talking more about these soon, especially as they relate to growing a marketing business, and understanding the true role of creativity in the process.