Monday, May 24, 2010

How to Sell to Millenials

A little less than a year ago, Miracle Whip came out with new ads, targeted at people my age (somewhere around 18-24, I would guess). The ad campaign proclaimed “Don’t be so Mayo,” that Miracle Whip was as rebellious as we were, that it somehow could tap into our generation and provide us with kickass mayo-substitute that wasn’t so bland, so mayo. It got lampooned on the Colbert Report, which gave it a great amount of earned media, and even ran advertisements calling Stephen Colbert out (during his ad-space). While they’ve since gone on to place their new product in a Lady Gaga video, “Telephone” (which I think is a much better way to reach our generation), I think they missed the message.

Our generation doesn’t want to be communicated to like that anymore. Our generation is one that grew up being bombarded with advertising everywhere. We know that we’re often being lied to, and we’re getting a little pissed off about it. We’re jaded and cynical about advertising, and irony is a second-language to us (if there aren’t enough ironic moustaches and three-wolf-moon shirts in your neighborhood, they soon will be). Kotex has a campaign that I think is more effective at reaching us than Miracle Whip was, all because it understands the way our generation acts.

I’m not a Kotex user (and, barring some massive operations, never will be). I have no idea what girls expect out of ads for “feminine hygiene products,” and I don’t know whether its sales are going to increase or decrease. I could care less about what product Kotex is selling, but their UbyKotex campaign is, in my opinion, done very well and tailored to our generation well. The ads (here and here)basically make fun of every tampon commercial. The imagery, the dancing girls, the white pants….they’re all lampooned here. Instead of reinforcing these old clich├ęs, these ads decide to make fun of them, Kotex admits to its own previous BS. This sort of straight-talk is something our disillusioned generation respects, and I suspect this is exactly why Kotex went with this strategy.

Companies that want to sell something to us are going to have to begin talking like us. This doesn’t necessarily mean using our slang (that changes far too fast), but at least using our tone. We’re a generation that grew up on the Simpsons, Conan, and Seinfeld. We’re used to sardonic humor, satire, and meta-comedy. We know how to make fun of ourselves, and we expect that a brand should be able to make fun of itself too. So, the takeaway for brands here is that if you want to sell something to us, don’t dumb the message down, and don’t forget who you’re communicating to. We’ll listen, but only if you get our tone right. Either give us the straight facts or make it funny, but do not assume we're dumb one-way recipients of your message.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

RIP Privacy, Hello Transparency

Mark Zuckerberg is watching you. Facebook has been getting a lot of negative buzz lately because of its privacy settings and how intrusive they seem. Facebook also added the ability to “Like” things all over the internet, meaning it can see and aggregate all of your likes together and hopefully derive some meaningful insights from them (like the Black Keys? Here’s an Ad!). If this seems a little Orwellian, you’re probably right. Zuckerberg thinks that privacy is dead, that it’s something we no longer really desire. I think there’s a little bit of truth to that.

Think about your life online. You probably have a Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn account if you’re my age (or at least one of them). You’ve probably shared most of your public contact information (email, phone number, Skype/AIM name) with something on the internet, and you probably also skipped over the legal mumbo jumbo that tells you how they are able to use it. Anytime you send an email, researchers can scour them for keywords and use that data. Here we are, in the age of rabid transparency.

In this strange new world of transparency, how you interact on the internet will be remembered forever. The pages you view, the comments you make on youtube, the tweets you send out. It just makes me happy that I barely missed the age of putting your baby doing stupid stuff on Youtube (I’ll take 5 sets of eyeballs over 13 Million, thank you very much). These things are all being archived (if they aren’t, somebody is missing an opportunity). Eventually, this archive will be a time capsule, a small look into our lives in the new millennium (BEFORE everyone had hover cars and jetpacks and sentient housemaid robots). But now, it can be used for research and meaningful insights, delivering you targeted advertising based upon your internet habits. What we’re seeing now is a rise in accountability. Your 15 minutes of fame have been extended indefinitely (Andy Warhol would have loved the internet). You can’t burn your online diary, shred your emails, or hide the video tapes Watergate-style. Once it’s on the internet, it’s there for good.

So, what do you do to hide from Big Brother Facebook? You could just avoid the internet completely (Brother Jebediah), but that doesn’t seem realistic these days. The key to surviving this new world is to manage your online presence. Make sure that nothing too inflammatory comes out of your keyboard, keep the dirty pictures out, and watch where you visit. Make sure everything you do online is really just an extension of who you are. If everyone’s watching, at least wave your flag.

All this being said, I think this transparency is a good thing; it makes us look more human when some of our failures are up on the internet. It’s also nice to know that most of the time when you’re giving out information, you’re not really your name. You’re just an 18-34 year old male from Wisconsin. None of the personal information is collected; your likes, dislikes, and visits are aggregated to form a larger data set. This data is then used to figure out what advertisements to send you, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just an internet experience catered to you. So, the key to surviving the brave new world of internet transparency is the same advice your mother has been telling you all of your life: be yourself.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Case For Twitter

We’ve all heard the complaints about Twitter. Why do we need to know what Kim Kardashian had for lunch? Why join a network where Ashton Kutcher is the most popular? Who the hell is Justin Bieber and why is he ALWAYS “trending?” Ok, I’ll admit it, these are all very valid questions and very valid reasons to be apprehensive about Twitter. However, once you get past these inane ramblings of celebrities, you’ll learn that Twitter does matter, especially for your company. Here’s why.

This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Media Landscape We’re in an age of clutter. Advertisements are everywhere; TV, the internet, radio, billboards, before movies, during sporting events…even on people (Forehead Advertising is real). We’re overwhelmed. It’s inescapable, and we as consumers are getting annoyed. We’re so mad, in fact, that we ignore most ads; DVRs allow us to skip ads on TV and iPods let us bypass the radio. We’re sick and tired of being told what to buy, what services to use, where to eat, and how to live. How does a brand cut through the clutter? Enter Twitter, which turns a brand into your friend.

Target Practice Let’s pretend you’re at an archery range in the traditional media landscape. The brand is an archer, and the brand’s message is the arrow. Guess what, Sucker, you’re the target! The brand shoots its message at you, and you just have to sit and take it. Not so fun, huh? Well, social media gives you a bow and allows you to shoot right back. Now we’re talking.

One of the biggest benefits of Twitter and social media in general is that it allows a brand to have a conversation with its customers. Instead of broadcasting a message, a brand can actually engage consumers in real-time. Think of it as an always on-call customer service department. If someone has an issue with your product, you can respond swiftly before it gets negative publicity. Compliments about your brand? You can Retweet it to your followers and spread the good news. Customers learn to trust your brand, and good friends are always listened to.

Listen Up Twitter also empowers consumers to have conversations with each other about your brand, increasing Word-of-Mouth advertising for your brand. Twitter lets a brand listen to its consumers in real-time, and provides a constant stream of insights about products, services, and how to improve overall customer service. Twitter becomes the World’s Biggest and Best Focus Group, and your brand becomes the World’s Least-Creepy Eavesdropper.

Twitter matters. In an age where consumers are constantly bombarded with communications they don’t want to receive and can ignore, Twitter cuts through the clutter. Twitter facilitates communication between your brand and its customers, and also internet chatter into meaningful insights. Drink the Twitter kool-aid. Connect to consumers, collect information, and correct mistakes. Join the conversation.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rebranding Isn't Just For Brands

Where you come from is gone, where you’re going to was never there, and where you are ain’t no good unless you can get away from it
-Flannery O’Connor

As I sit here on Graduation-Eve Eve, desperately trying to study but ultimately failing (I’m listening to music and my test is about music, so….win?), I find myself thinking about the future. Monday, May 16th is LITERALLY the first day of the rest of my life. Everything’s changing. The only world I know is going to be gone (though I’ve still got plenty of debt to remind myself of college). It’s a little terrifying, but it’s also new, which is incredibly exciting. So, instead of mourning four years of my life that will rank as the most enjoyable, wild, and exciting ever, I might as well see the positive sides of graduating.

Congrats, class of 2010! We each get a graduation present: the opportunity for reinvention. The best brands, products, and services adapt based on changes in culture, trends, and technology. Unless you’re Coca-Cola, you don’t stay relevant for so long by being the same. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to rebrand ourselves.

Rebranding. Don Draper did it (yes, he’s a TV character. I watch TV. Get over it). Dick Whitman didn’t like who he was and where he was from, so he changed into Don Draper. He took the hidden parts of his personality and projected them. Robert Zimmerman did it, too. Here’s a kid from northern Minnesota who decided there was something better out there, picked up his guitar and moved to New York to become Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is the best example of personal rebranding I can think of. Musically, he went from folk and blues to protest music to surrealist electric rock to country. And that's only the first decade of his career.Hell, if the Rolling Stones can make a disco album, you can change too. Become someone new. Reinvent. The world is dynamic. Not even your personality should stand still.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t whitewashing the past. It’s not even really about looking more appealing to recruiters and higher-ups at your job. It’s about the opportunity to let others see you in a different way. We’re in for a lifetime of first impressions, but in these next few months and years we’re going to be experiencing a TON of them. Make them count. Play around with different sides of your personality, see which one fits. Nobody said you had to figure out who you were yet, so use that to your advantage.

I’m not talking about some extreme, Britney-Spears-shaving-her-head change. This isn’t Urkel making a machine that turns him into a suave, debonair Stephan Urquell (not all the TV I watch is high quality). This is about is taking existing parts of your personality and messing around with the percentages a little bit to let other aspects of your personality shine. Become more outgoing by forcing yourself to speak up at group events, even if it’s a little stressful. Tell more jokes. Argue with people. You’re no longer bounded by everyone already knowing who you are, so there are very few preconceptions about you. Use that. It’s a wonderful gift.