After a year and a half of missteps, J.C. Penney may have gotten something right with their new commercial:
Remembering the Golden Rule
Here’s a fun fact: the first store opened by the J.C. Penney company was called The Golden Rule. The idea was to run a business where customers were treated fair and square. This could have been a running theme over the past year, as the new “JCP” sought to push low price points. The disastrous mis-marketing of the last year instead tried to divorce JCP from any connection of the pre-2012.
That was a mistake. This ad, on the other hand, mixes old images of J.C. Penney stores with modern Instagram-ish clips of young customers. The final image of the commercial includes the company’s full name, J.C. Penney, rather than the JCP square logo that had punctuated previous ads.
The design is still minimalist, but there is no doubt that the commercial embraces J.C. Penney’s past.
Owning the Mistake
Frank apology ads are usually the domain of politicians. This ad makes as frank an admission as a company can in a television spot. Most of J.C. Penney’s failure came from trying to dictate to consumers how to shop; this level of honesty sends a message that the company understands why customers left and won’t insult their intelligence by pretending like the last year and a half didn’t happen.
Will It Last?
It’s easier to make a good commercial than to save a business that has alienated many customers. The last 18 months showed that customers do not hold blind allegiances to their department stores, and that their shopping habits are not set in stone.
Those customers might come back to J.C. Penney, but there real challenges remain for a department store still stuck between the discount prices of Target and Wal-Mart and the loftier tags of Nordstrom’s and Macy’s. Johnson may have been a bad CEO for the company, but there were plenty of others who didn’t know how to turn the rudder, either.
At least they should have an idea about what doesn’t work.
Contextual advertising is a good thing. The NFL Draft is the biggest sports story going on, so the ads Pandora placed on ESPN encouraging husbands to “pick the right gift” is pretty clever. (And let’s be honest – this is definitely about targeting a guy buying for his wife or baby mama and staying out of the dog house. There’s nothing wrong with that.)
But the image of Mel Kiper peeking from the bottom? That’s unnecessary… and maybe a little creepy.
This commercial ran during the MLB All-Star game this evening:
So a car company which is only in existence now right now due to a massive government bailout funded by taxpayers, feels their product is so amazing that it deserves a blank check for any repairs.
That sounds about right.
FedEx is spending lots of money on online advertising hammering away at an proposed regulatory change that would benefit UPS. Using the parlance of our times, they are calling it the “Brown Bailout” – since the term “bailout” has such high negative connotations.
I’ve criticized this campaign before for tactical flaws – many of which have been corrected in the year since it launched. And the people in charge of the campaign messages have always done a good job of explaining a complex issue completely in a simple – and funny – way with great videos.
But here’s the rub: those videos, while once effective, are outdated. Those UPS whiteboard commercials are two or three years old, and the company has moved to an ad campaign which highlights “logistics.” If FedEx’s government affairs division wanted to really hammer UPS, the new ads are quite mockable.
By recycling a year-old campaign, FedEx is taking a shortcut. It would be like bringing a knife to a gun fight – but luckily for them, UPS is bringing a whiffle bat. In the year and a half since FedEx has been running the Brown Bailout campaign, the best UPS could muster is this visually thrilling online press kit that could serve as that antidote to caffeine scientists have been searching for:
With the mid-term elections fresh in the rear view mirror, the serious contenders for the 2012 Presidential nomination are unofficially kicking off their campaigns. And the two likely front runners, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, have started with a pretty smart Facebook strategy.
At TechRepublican, Ethan Demme noticed Mitt Romney’s new Facebook ads running immediately after the election, congratulating “high profile” candidates. Tim Pawlenty has been doing the same thing. But the strategy appears to be even more specific than that. Here are the ads I saw:
What does incoming Arkansas Congressman Tim Griffin have in common with the Feingold-conquering Wisconsonite Senator-elect Ron Johnson? Turns out, I’ve clicked “like” on both of their Facebook pages. (I’ve also seen Romney ads supporting former and future Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whose Facebook page I’ve also liked.) In other words, I’m a self-identified supporter of these politicians – a factor that Facebook’s ad platform allows campaigns to take into account when they target advertising.
By playing on the interest of possible supporters, Romney and Pawlenty share an excellent outreach strategy. The question will become what each campaign does with the supporters they recruit. Pawlenty has already made a push to take advantage of Facebook’s capability for activation through interactive town halls, while Romney’s page is more or less a one-way communications channel – but neither has taken a decisive lead in innovation on this platform.
Folks like Weird Al Yankovic elevate musical parody to an art form. Then you have folks like John McCain’s current opponent, Rodney Glassman.
Glassman and McCain are engaged in a musical war, and this entry is side-splittingly hilarious, though not for the reasons Glassman probably intended. Outside of a few random pictures of volunteers, constituents, and Smokey the Bear, the only people in the video are Glassman and his band. Aside from missing the chance to highlight his supporters, the viewer gets plenty of awkward shots of Glassman rocking out. Wouldn’t it have been better to have volunteers signing along, or Glassman and his orchestra singing to crowds rather than an empty field?
At the end, Glassman proclaims, “Four decades in Washington, D.C. is far too long!” True. While we’re on the subject, four minutes is far too long for a web video to get to the point. Glassman didn’t have to write a whole song – 30 seconds, plus a brief call to action would do. And speaking of a call to action – why was the song directed at John McCain? Shouldn’t he have been talking to his supporters? After all, they weren’t there for the video shoot.
You may be asking, “Why waste time writing about a web video (even a really bad one) in a race that isn’t competitive?” A race being unwinnable isn’t an excuse to stop trying to win. With an effective race, Glassman could build an organization that would position him for a run at Jon Kyl in 2012 or some other statewide office. (With a recording deal unlikely, future political races seem like a safer career choice.)
Do they ever. And what a week it has been for Alaska political ads.
Just in time for Halloween, Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign has a new ad with former/late Sen. Ted Stevens, endorsing her from beyond the grave:
The good news for Murkowski is that the utter creepiness of the ad overshadows the fact that Stevens – who was drummed out of Congress under a cloud of ethics charges – is basically saying that Murkowski’s biggest asset is her incumbency. That’s not the best message for the 2010 election cycle. Also, if the biggest knock on Murkowski is that she’s a more self-serving than a self-sacrificing public servant, then cutting a commercial with footage of a dead guy seems to play right into her opponents’ hands.
Speaking of opponents, a Joe Miller ad launched this week spoofed the Old Spice body wash commercials from this summer – which is appropriate, because after watching Murkowski’s ad, you may feel like you need a shower:
Businesses are advertising on Facebook more – ten times more, to be exact. This is more than simply another channel for businesses and brands to reach internet users and peddle wares – although the fact that Facebook is the web’s top-ranked site doesn’t hurt. (Political races have already felt a limited impact of Facebook ads – recall that in 2008, a $51 ad buy helped a Dartmouth college student win a county treasurer race, and 2010 Congressional candidates are building their follower lists now.)
So leaving aside the obvious reason of the network’s large – and growing – audience, what has been driving the rapid growth of Facebook’s ad platform?
1. Budget justification through analytics, flexibility, and (most important) measurable results
The internet has been to advertising what the Moneyball approach has been to baseball – it allowed stat-crunchers and analysts to break down real-world activity into numbers, and optimize their activities according to what yielded the best results. (This had, of course, been going on as long as advertising had been around, but the internet allowed for more variables and more precise measurements.)
Like any successful online ad platform, Facebook allows advertisers to examine what trends work and what don’t, and change things like creative and targeting accordingly. This is what has made Google the world’s biggest advertising company.
It’s especially important for Facebook because, as ubiquitous as the site is, many businesses are concerned about dipping a toe in Lake Facebook. Put another way, the question for the budget-masters to ask themselves is: What if we built a Facebook page, and no one likes us? Having a dead Facebook page is worse than having no Facebook page at all.
Facebook ads can give advertisers and brand managers ammunition to go to these budget managers and identify key, reachable metrics to justify not only the ad flight, but an entire Facebook strategy.
Another page from the Google playbook for online advertising is the ease with which anyone can build a Facebook ad. It requires creativity, strategy, and writing skill, but you don’t have to be a technological genius.
This is important for two reasons. First, if you’re in the business of selling ads (either directly or as part of an overall brand or issue management strategy), the advertising model is easy to understand and sell to a potential client.
Second, it expands the universe of potential advertisers. Local businesses could target users in their neighborhood with limited buys that are put together the same way as the ads of a national brand like Old Spice. Like Google, Facebook makes very powerful advertising tools accessible to small businesses and individuals as well as large companies.
3. Peer pressure
The first two drivers of Facebook’s ad success involve its adoption of features that Google and other networks perfected; the next two involve advantages Facebook enjoys over Google search advertising. The first and most obvious is the “like” feature on ads, which allows users to see whom among their friends has clicked on it. This is a small feature, but it taps into what has always been the driving force of activity on Facebook: the idea that people get most of their information from their friends. That’s a big reason why Facebook drives more web traffic to news and other sites than Google. By leveraging peer pressure where it can, Facebook gives its ads that much more impact.
The platform also allows advertisers to target friends of existing members of fan pages or group members. For instance, if my friend likes Organizing for America, then OFA can direct an ad at me, figuring that I might be a potential supporter as well.
4. Attractive ads
Back in the early days of online advertising, display ads checkered websites the way print ads checker newspapers and magazines. Google’s search ads were less attractive but more effective, since they were based on a user’s searches and interests. There were no pictures, because that would have only cluttered the space.
Facebook’s text ads with a small thumbnail both draw the eye and allow for some illustration of the brief message. Facebook ads require the same pithy writing as Google ads, but the small picture makes a big difference.
Facebook’s ad prices haven’t grown with its user base, so it has remained a cheap cost-per-click option for advertisers. That, combined with an extremely flexible pricing structure, results in a platform that lends itself to very limited and easy ad flights. This allows for a $10 or $20 test campaign – low enough that curious individuals can run one on their own, or front the costs on a project for a client and work on a contingency basis. That low barrier of entry that promotes experimentation helps win over new advertisers – and, once they figure the platform out, gives them a reason to stay.
It isn’t going out on a limb to say that Len Britton likely won’t beat Patrick Leahy to become the next U.S. Senator from Vermont. But he has used a couple of campaign videos to point out the problem of government overspending, and who foots the bill:
In another video, the creepy government guy hands Billy and his family a check for their share of the national debt. When Billy points out that it’s a lot of money, creepy government guy taunts, “Better get a paper route, Billy!”
The videos have received national attention, because they deliver a message in a creative, funny way. They’re also excellent examples of the right way to run an extremely uphill race.
I’m not very familiar with Britton’s campaign, so he could be an insane, foil hat-wearing Lyndon Larouche backer who thinks that the destruction of the Death Star was God’s revenge for the Empire’s tolerance of same-sex Jawa marriage. But based on this limited sample, Britton uses his underdog status to make his point in a way that would scare off many campaigns in the thick of a close race. If Britton were to drop this strategy to rant about the President’s birth certificate, Sarah Palin’s baby, or some other conspiracy theory for the deranged the damage to his personal credibility will be dwarfed by the damage he does to the Republican brand.
Britton may wind up underfunded, and his videos may be limited to their viral appeal, and it may not be enough to keep Leahy from wiping the floor with him come November. But this isn’t the last election in Vermont, so this video and the messages it carries can still set the table for victory – even if it isn’t until Billy’s old enough to vote.
So much has been written about the success of Old Spice’s social media campaign this week, that to say too much about it would be redundant. But there are a few facets of this campaign which translate well to other attempts to create viral interest online, whether it be for a brand like Old Spice, a cause, or a candidate.
1. Engagement. The central theme of the campaign was keeping random folks involved, and making an effort to actually answer questions from random internet surfers. The behind-the-scenes strategy was a little bit more sophisticated than that; the team behind the campaign made sure certain bloggers and social media savvy celebrities – key influencers of the online conversation – were targeted to ensure their exposure spread.
2. Speed. Creating the videos required rapid-fire recordings and uploads, which was no doubt made for a few intense days for “Old Spice Man” actor Isaiah Mustafa. This short burst of productivity allowed Old Spice to strike while the iron was hot. That level of immediate responsiveness is the difference between a campaign getting some attention for launching a website before quickly getting stale and enjoying an extended media cycle where they drive the conversation by constantly giving people something to talk about. Much like in baseball, speed can slow the game down.
3. Context. None of this would have been possible without a resonant base concept. Old Spice had spent months cultivating the image of the unthreateningly arrogant and unfailingly confident Old Spice Man, and even more time building its brand as a tongue-in-cheek advertiser. This week’s campaign did not happen in a vacuum; the online success was supported by months of support from traditional television advertising.
4. Content. The fact that Mustafa’s Old Spice Man and the commercials were ridiculous and off beat – in other words, entertaining – helped immensely. The traditional model of advertising for big brands is sponsoring entertainment such as television shows. Old Spice essentially created entertainment. It’s nothing new – Budweiser has been making ads that told stories for decades. It’s just more important in a media environment where it’s tough to catch eyeballs.
One thing to note is that Old Spice is not a nicle and dime start up. Before the last year or so of quirky ads, it had a long-standing reputation as a stalwart in the field of optimal men’s odors. In such a position, many brands would have forged a “Coca Cola campaign” – highlighting their history and strength. It would have been safe but probably not as successful as their current strategy, which allows them to compete with the more sophomoric positioning of competitors like Axe without sacrificing the their old school street cred.