Special K’s ‘Own It’: Inspiring or pandering, again?

Special K ads Sarah Welstead

Didn’t Dove already do this to death?

Special K ads Sarah Welstead

I know this spot has been out there for a while, but it’s suddenly started showing up every 3 seconds as pre-roll on YouTube and it’s starting to really bug me.

Take a look if you haven’t seen it yet:

I know it’s supposed to be all body-positive and inspiring and everything – and I happen to know that Kelloggs did a lot of research for this, worldwide – but every time I see this, all I think is:

  • .
  • Hasn’t Dove already done this, like, a million times?
  • PLEASE STOP CONDESCENDING TO ME
  • I’m tired of accepting the premise upon which these types of ads are based (i.e. that it’s normal for women to spend so much time hating their bodies, and that a couple of inspiring tv commercials will somehow fix this)
  • That DNCE video of ‘Cake by the Ocean‘, which includes some ‘curvier’ girls as part of the general beach babes, without being sanctimonious or ’empowering’ about it, is probably doing more for body positivity among young people than this piece of cheese.

Feel free to tell me that I am standing in the way of helping young girls everywhere accept their bodies, blah blah blah. But as a woman who has spent most of her life hating her figure just as much as anyone else, I can tell you that (a) this ad is not helping me to reevaluate my whole perspective; and (b) it is definitely not going to prevent any overweight girl or young woman from hearing the kind of snide comments – often from other women! – about how she’s too fat, or unattractive, or somehow ‘less than’ her thin peers.

Maybe Special K should try addressing that.

“Sell more stuff” isn’t a marketing strategy – and won’t get the results you want

when marketing goals are hazy, results can't happen

when marketing goals are hazy, results can't happen

Marketing can’t deliver results if you don’t know what those results should be

The other day I had a conversation with a new client. He wants to grow his business aggressively (from $1.5 million to $5 million in revenue) in the next couple of years, and knows he needs marketing support to do it. But he hasn’t done a lot of marketing so far, and while he’s an expert in his field, he hasn’t had much experience in sales and marketing.

Here is part of our exchange:

ME: “Can you tell me a little more about your sales goals for the next 6-12 months?”

HIM: “I told you. I want to grow the business.”

ME: “Yes, but as we’ve discussed you’ve got a wide range of products and services. Which ones do you want to focus on?

HIM: “All of them. We need to sell more of everything.”

ME: “What does your business plan look like? Where do you see the bulk of your revenue coming from in the next 6-12 months?”

HIM: “We need to double our revenue by next year.”

ME: “Where do you see the incremental revenue coming from? What’s making you the most money right now?”

HIM: “Everything. We need to sell more of everything.”

ME: “But you said you didn’t want to spend more than $2500 a month, right?”

 

It’s hard to achieve goals if no one knows what they are

Many – maybe most – small businesses are afraid to get too specific with their sales and revenue goals: “If we concentrate too much on one area,” they fear, “we’ll miss opportunities in other areas.”

And it’s true that the nimbleness of small businesses – their ability to respond to changes in the marketplace and adapt their service offerings accordingly – can be a tremendous advantage.

However, when it comes to marketing, this strategy usually just results in chaos, overspending, and an inability to judge whether a particular marketing initiative has been effective.

Marketing isn’t like accounting. But you have to at least try to make the columns add up.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that marketing is often more art than science – and even the science bit is often alchemy. It’s tough to draw a straight line from $1 spent on marketing to $5 in revenue.

Big-data types can talk all they want about profiles and predictive modeling and one-to-one targeting, but until they figure out that I don’t actually live in Ottawa and that I am not interested in hiring a painting contractor in Virginia and that I am definitely not buying anything from Zulily, I am going to continue to believe that successful marketing consists of gathering all the information you can, then making some choices.

6 steps to setting marketing goals that are more likely to get results

1. Pull your actual sales data so you know exactly what you sold. Anecdotal sales stories about that one time you sold a whole bunch of random stuff to that healthcare center in Boston aren’t good enough. Most of the time, your sales data will tell you that, in fact, your best, easiest sales are of your top 3-4 product/services.

2. Figure out what’s driving customer acquisition. This is, in my experience, the biggest unknown for small businesses – and yet it can be the greatest source of information for marketing purposes. If 90% of your customers are referrals from other customers, then you should probably use marketing to encourage more referrals, instead of spending a zillion dollars on a fancy website that no one visits anyway.

3. Segment your customers. Again, stop relying on anecdotal information and look at the list of people/businesses who’ve actually bought stuff from you in the past 12-24 months. You’ll almost always discover that 85% (or more) of them fall into 2-3 easily identifiable categories (same industry, same function, same location, etc.).

4. Identify your high-margin products/services. It’s (usually) more profitable to sell $50k worth of stuff at a 50% margin than $200k of stuff at a 5% margin. So why focus marketing efforts on both?

5. Articulate the business goals – and be specific. Yeah, okay, you want to sell more stuff. But why? And what? Maybe you want to drive gross revenue because you’re looking at an exit strategy; maybe you want big profits because you want to give your employees a raise; maybe you want to push a monthly service because you want to stabilize cashflow; maybe you want to build the brand to attract investors. The more you know about your business goals, the better you’ll be able to determine what your marketing should focus on, how much to spend – and what marketing tactics will get you there.

6. Go after the low-hanging fruit first. Seems obvious, right?  Except, like I said, most small business owners fear that if they focus on the obvious, they’ll miss out on the mystical unicorns of untapped customers. But here’s the thing: I promise that if you spend 12 months focusing on the low-hanging fruit, the mystical unicorns will magically appear. Business is funny that way: The more successful you are selling your core products and services to your core target markets, the more likely it is that you’ll start selling to everyone else, too. Plus, you’ll be so profitable that you won’t have to go chasing unicorns any more!

 

I know, I know – all this talk of business analysis and goal setting means I’m taking all the fun out of marketing, which is supposed to be about Big Ideas and cool websites and getting a YouTube celebrity to endorse your product. It can be like that – as long as you’ve done your homework first.

 

3 Muskateens: Why do brands keep getting YouTube so wrong?

Getting YouTube wrong

Getting YouTube wrong

Big Candy tries to buy…influence?

So 3 Muskateers has embarked on what they seem to think is some kind of innovative new strategy to reach Gen Z: Instead of just buying shoutouts from already-established YouTubers (it’s so expensive to get Zoella or Gigi Gorgeous to pretend to love your product now! And they won’t always do what you want!), they’ve decided to create their own trio of “influencers” to do kooky stuff in front of a camera in someone’s bedroom but with good lighting, colour-coded decor and multiple camera angles, just like Real YouTube Stars.

What happens when a bad idea meets even worse execution?

bad branding 3 muskateers

I think this little exchange – from the 3 Muskateers Facebook page – pretty much sums up the answers to that question.

This is a campaign by people who don’t know YouTube at all

I may be two generations removed from Z (no one talks about Gen X any more, but we’re still here, paying attention), but I’ve been a pretty hard-core YouTube consumer for 10 years now. I remember when Brookers was the first YouTuber to get a ‘real’ Hollywood contract; I remember when LisaNova was still dating Danny Diamond and no one knew Disney would buy Maker for $500 million;  the drama that unfolded around MiaRose and her fake comments; the questions about DaxFlame; and of course, who can forget the mysterious Magibon? Heck, I remember when Shane Dawson got fired from Jenny Craig for doing too many YouTube videos.

Today’s YouTube is a vastly changed place, of course: A quick look at the top 100 most-subscribed list reveals that popstars and ‘mainstream’ shows like The Late Show have taken over from the quirky DIY types of 10 years ago. And these days, even teenage beauty bloggers with a subscriber base of 132 understand 3-point lighting and how to create an attention-grabbing thumbnail.

But longtime YouTubers like JennaMarbles, NigaHiga and SMOSH are still drawing big audiences. Why? Because in world of scripted reality shows and carefully managed brand identities, YouTube is where people go for authenticity. (Yes, okay, I hate that word too. But it’s appropriate here.) YouTube likes real people, especially if they’re a bit odd in a way you’d never see on mainstream tv.

The YouTube audience is pretty sophisticated, so you won’t hear too much complaining when a beloved celebrity does some kind of product placement or endorsement. (In the early days, there were lots of cries of ‘sellout’ when YouTubers did this; these days I think there’s a better understanding that if you want high-quality content, someone has to pay for it.) But this same sophisticated audience, who expects YouTube celebrities to be more authentic, definitely gets annoyed when they feel like they’re being tricked- especially by a big brand.

youtube 3 muskateers ads

 

If 3 Muskateers had been more blatant about the advertising, no one would have minded; if they’d been better at making this channel look ‘real’, no one would have minded. By choosing the middle ground, they’ve managed to annoy everyone pretty quickly.

Prediction? The 3 Muskateens will be gone in 12 months.

 

More tips from the seamy underbelly of Twitter

How to avoid letting Twitter make you crazy

Twitter will make you crazy if you aren’t careful

How to avoid letting Twitter make you crazy

I think Twitter can be both useful and even fun: It’s a great way to find out about breaking news, it’s a good way to quickly connect with people who are interested in something you’re wondering about right this minute, and it can steer you to information and topics you might never have discovered on your own (right now, I’m finding #blackhistorymonth very interesting). For businesses, it can be an excellent CRM tool, delivering the kind of instant gratification that customers tend to like; it can assist with SEO by ensuring you have regular content attached to your brand/name; and over the longer term it can be quite effective at building your profile, particularly within a particular industry or field.

Twitter is also fraught with dangerous rabbit holes. Make the mistake of clicking on a trending topic like #zayndontleave or #gamergate and you’ll find yourself sucked into a vortex of vitriol, misongyny, anger and illiteracy so bad you’ll start to wonder if social media really is the scourge of humanity.

But don’t worry!

More tips to help you actually like Twitter

1. People who have text on their background pictures are trying to sell you something. If you see text on the background pic of an account, think twice before following, even if you can’t actually read the text without clicking on the picture. If the text includes a number, be extra careful – anyone whose main message is “Ask me how I can increase your traffic by 92% in 2 weeks!” is trying to sell you something you almost certainly don’t need. And, worse, is going to tweet really, really boring stuff.

1.(b) If the text is a quote, do not follow. People who put inspirational quotes like “Walking in the sand, I knew my heart was in the sky” can be classified as one of 3 things: A bot/fake account; a person who tweets way, way too much; or a person who spends 98% of their leisure time on Pinterest. None of these people will help you professionally (and probably not personally, either).

2.  It’s okay to follow brands. I used to say that it was better to follow real people rather than brands – my reasoning was that people would actually tweet interesting stuff while brands would just regurgitate party-line soundbites. I’m happy to say this has changed. Some brands have great individuals running their Twitter feeds; others have hired content strategy types (like me) to give them interesting, relevant content which is even sometimes funny.

3.  Don’t follow anyone wearing a hat in their profile pic. The exception to this might be a professional baseball player wearing a ball cap. Otherwise, it just means “I am a self-published romantic fiction/sci-fi author and I like tea and cats.”

4.  It’s okay good to get personal. Sometimes.  No, you shouldn’t tweet endless photos of your meals out (unless you’re a food blogger). But a quick tweet about the marathon you just ran, or a pic of a funny sign you saw, or an amusing comment about current events lets your audience know that you’re a real person who does interesting things and has interesting thoughts. And it will often generate better engagement than a link to an industry-related article.

5. If someone with 10k followers, who is only following 100 people, follows you, ask yourself why. In fact, you don’t have to ask yourself – I will tell you: Because they are going to wait for you to follow back, then unfollow you immediately. They are not interested in you or your business, they aren’t interested in your tweets – they just want to build their follower base so they can sell someone something (possibly access to their follower base). Which brings me to…

6.  Follower: Following ratio is important. Twitter, like so much of adult life, is like high school: The winner is the person who seems most popular. A person with 20k followers who is only following 543 people looks more popular (and probably actually is) than someone who has 80k followers but is following 93k people.  When you’re first starting out on Twitter, your ratio will be poor (see #5 in my previous Seamy Underbelly piece), but your goal, over time, should be to ensure you have more followers than people you’re following.

7.  It’s a long game.  Digital media types in skinny pants often try to give you the impression that in the Modern World, everything happens superfast! and supergreat! But the truth is that Twitter, like almost any other component in a social media/content strategy, delivers results over the longer term. It takes time to build up a following and think up some clever tweets that get attention and push out content that people actually read. I tell clients they need to keep at it for 6-12 months before they can really assess results.

8. Be very clear about why you’re bothering with Twitter in the first place. Twitter can deliver lots of benefits for small businesses: It can feed your other social media channels; it can amplify your content; it can give you access to eyeballs you wouldn’t otherwise have for free; it can help your Google rankings; it can be a CRM tool; it can make your otherwise static website look continually updated; it can act as a focus group; it can raise your profile within your industry or target market – all these things can be valuable.

But Twitter can also be a lot of work – it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of time especially if you’re using the right tools, it just requires sort of constant care and feeding, and that can be tricky for small businesses with limited resources. That’s why it’s crucial to know why you’re doing it and what you hope to achieve. If you can stay out of the rabbit holes and stay the course for a year, you might find it more effective than you think.

 

Growing up in advertising: All age groups required

Advertising needs old people too

Your perspective changes over time. So does your insight.

YouAreNowTheTargetPicV1

Exhibit 1

I was a newly-minted Account Director in yet another ‘brainstorming’ meeting with a client, whose key goal for the coming year was to sell more cans of bug-killing spray than any of their competitors. The problem was that the market seemed to be saturated: There were only so many suburban women aged 35-49 with a household bug problem in the country.

Finally I said, “Why aren’t we going after the 18-34s in urban areas? Don’t they have more bugs than you guys do?”

I used the term “you guys”, because all the people on the client-side of the table were in fact 35-49s who lived in suburbia. (Also because I was tired. “You guys” is just sloppy phrasing.)

I, on the other hand, was 29, living alone in a downtown-ish apartment in an older building, and bugs were a problem. Ants in summer, those million-legged creepy bugs in fall, huge weird black flies in the winter – and every so often, an unidentified winged bug I immediately assumed was the start of a cockroach invasion precipitated by a new tenant down the hall and on which I went nuclear. My friends were all in the same boat: We all lived downtown, we all lived in older, usually multi-family buildings, and we all, from time to time, faced bug problems.  We all had more cans of bug spray under our sinks than most of the suburban soccer moms we knew.

 

Exhibit 2

For most of my life I had no idea where to buy everyday baby clothes. I didn’t have kids, I didn’t like kids that much, I didn’t have too many friends who’d had babies. When called upon for a baby gift I usually bought something expensive, like a silver Tiffany baby spoon or a Christian Dior baby hat.

But in March 2013 I had a baby, and suddenly I became a whole new consumer: I quickly learned that Tiffany spoons and Dior hats were virtually useless, because what a new mother really needs is reasonably-priced multipacks of cotton onesies, reliable carseats and giant boxes of wet wipes for sensitive skin. And I had no idea where to start (two days before my daughter was born, I actually posted a query on Facebook: “Where do you find decent baby clothes that aren’t covered in Disney characters?” You can call me unprepared if you want; I was just trying not to jinx things).

At the time I had a client whose product was targeted to mothers who wanted ‘all-natural’ healthcare for babies and toddlers.  I went from (secretly) thinking the target market was basically just a subset of over-protective attachment-parenting anti-vaxxers to identifying with them – which meant that I started to have much better ideas about how to market to them, where to reach them, and what messages would work best.

 

Young people aren’t the only ones with Big Ideas

In advertising, it’s long been held that Big Ideas only come from young minds, and that if you weren’t a creative director by 40 or an agency owner by 50, you could expect to get sidelined in direct mail or something equally unglamorous.  (And no, you don’t need to point out to me that direct mail and direct email, done right, can deliver a far greater ROI than some super-deluxe Superbowl commercial. But it’s still not glamorous, and you’re not going to get to meet Brad Pitt at the shoot.)

But Big Ideas only come from Big Insights, and your insights change as your life changes.

My bug-spray insight – which, incidentally, led to a campaign that drove significant incremental sales in urban areas – was a direct result of my life at that moment, and I probably wouldn’t have the same insight today. My insights about the baby-care products would definitely never have happened 10 years ago, and 15 years from now I’ll have some insight about high-fibre breakfast cereal that wouldn’t occur to me today.

When I worked in ad agencies, we used to have a saying: “You are not the target.” It’s what we often said to the client, when we presented what we thought were fantastic ideas but they didn’t love.  These days I find myself thinking: “You are now the target.” Maybe hungry 20-somethings should not be our only source of big ideas.