TALK TO ME

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Humans are the most social of all animals. We love to talk and interact with others. It is one activity we crave for and if are deprived of it, we could sometimes lose our sanity too. Well, advertisers are realizing this fact too; i.e., if they do not interact with their consumers, they could lose their market share to those who do so! The latest development in TV ads is helping advertisers do just this. Technology is being used to change ads from being a one-way communication process to two-way. It’s time that companies realized that not many are watching their ads. Think about it. Every time there is an ‘ad break’, we use it for a ‘loo-break’ or a ‘mobile checking break’ or a ‘what’s-on-in-other-channels- break’!!! This is making many big advertisers turn away from TV.

Take a test… try to remember the last few Nike commercials you saw on TV. Chances are that you will not be able to clearly remember them, for the simple reason that Nike is no more big on TV. Nike’s spending on TV and print has dropped by 40% in the last three years, though its total marketing budget has increased and is today at a record high of $2.4 billion. Nike has shifted its focus from expensive celebrity endorsements and has started making more interactive online marketing plans that encourage the user to communicate directly with the company. So those are the products like Nike+ running sensor and the Nike ‘FuelBand’ that are its key areas of focus today. The one division that has doubled its size in the company (from 100 employees to 200 in just 6 months) is Nike Digital Sport. The company spent $800 million on ‘non-traditional’ media in 2010. Rather than spending on the Super Bowl as it had traditionally always done, Nike feels that it makes better sense to focus on its online communities. It is here that most of its consumers spend their time (and not in front of the TV). It is here that it can get 200 million visits everyday, as compared to that one Super Bowl Sunday when 200 million Americans watch the game. It is here that Nike encourages millions of its users to post their workout details and in return gives them fitness tips, helps them share their workouts with friends, et al. This ‘conversation’ helps the company know more about its customers and helps it plan better marketing strategies.

Considering the fact that today, more than 5 million runners log on to Nike to check their performance, Nike has followed the right strategy. It’s not surprising that in spite of Adidas and Reebok merging and becoming one giant organization and in spite of so many new and hot upstarts in tow, Nike remains the world’s largest sports company; for the simple reason that it has stayed connected to its consumers.

As Nike CEO Mark Parker says, “Connecting today is a dialogue.” He actually implies that those days when a good product with good advertising were enough to sell the product are long gone. Today, marketing is all about interacting closely with the consumer, probably just like the old days when its founder Phil Knight started selling shoes out of his car. He convinced each customer, made him his friend and sold him his shoes. Online communities help brands make friends and customize their communications to suit each one’s need. One can say that marketing has come full circle! Glitzy ads will not work, nor will world famous celebrities. What will finally work is your ability to understand the consumer and your ability to engage in a conversation with him.

TALK TO ME: CAMPAIGNS VS. CONVERSATIONS

Everybody is waking up to the fact that passive one way communication will work no more. So Microsoft has gone ahead and made this very passive medium, i.e. the TV ad, into an interactive one. It’s introduced the NUads on its gaming console Xbox 360 Kinect. It’s the new hands-free gaming experience, which requires no controls except your hand gestures, making everybody in the family from the 6-year old to the 60-year old enjoy it. On this platform, it has launched these interactive ads.

The ads that are streamed on the Xbox are different from your regular ads, for they ask you to participate in opinion polls, and even give you the results instantly. They ask you if you want to share the ad on Twitter, and once you say ‘Yes’, it takes just a wave of your hand to post it on your account on the social networking site of your choice. An advertisement for a TV show will ask you if you want to put a reminder on your phone, so that you don’t forget to watch it. Again, a swipe of your hand will send the information of the show timing on your mobile phone and set an alarm to remind you to watch the show. This and various other interactive activities have been built into the ads so that you no more watch them passively, or worse, still walk away while the ad break is on.

Launched last month, among the first few to experiment with this are Toyota, Unilever and Samsung Mobile USA. The ads would be launched later this year, but a sneak peak was available of Toyota’s ads. It decided to take its ‘Reinvent’ TV ad campaign a step further. In the ‘interactive’ version, not only will it show how Toyota has reinvented its cars, but it will also ask viewers what they would like to see reinvented. Viewers can then respond using Kinectpowered voice or gesture controls. It serves a dual purpose. The viewer is kept engaged and Toyota gets valuable feedback. Unilever is using this interactivity for its ‘Lynx’ brand. Its ads show a female cop chasing a robber; but by the end, we realize that she’s chasing a guy with the Lynx deodorant. The tagline reads, “Nothing will be the same again”. Viewers are then asked if the Lynx effect should be given to girls with options being “Yes, of course” and “No way”. It’s a fun way to engage the audience. In fact, the creative possibilities are unlimited. A car ad on the Xbox can now come with an option, “Do you want to know where the nearest dealer outlet is?” A wave of your hand and you can get the address. The car company, in turn, gets data about how many viewers were interested in knowing the location of its dealer outlets, which can help it plan its future strategies.

There was a time when companies talked and customers listened. Today, with these NUads, the customer talks and the company listens.

TALK ABOUT ME

Data is the lifeline of any business, as the CMO of Zipcar will tell you. Under him, Zipcar has grown by leaps and bounds and all he did was to use the data of customers to customize his marketing. He used data like how the car was reserved (online or via an iPhone app), how many hours did they use the hired car, which cars were preferred in which neighborhood, et al. All this data and more was used to plan media buying strategies, advertising themes, et al. The right data is what will help you fight competition, and interactive ads get you that data right from the customer himself.

So not just the Xbox, Microsoft is doing the same with its Skype services. It bought Skype for $8.5 billion last year, and is now finding a way to monetize it using ‘interactive ads’. Using the membership data of customers, it will figure out which services and products you would be interested in and every time you make a voice call, these ads in the form of contests, games, exclusive movie trailers, et al will flash on your screen. The idea being that you will start talking about them with the person you are on the call with and maybe even click on the ads and watch them. How it finally works, time will tell, but one thing is for sure. Advertisers have a whole world of opportunities opened up for them. The game will change, the rules of advertising will change, and the most creative will win.

Steve Jobs
The one company that has always believed in changing the rules of the game is Apple. Even its marketing strategy is a ‘game changer’. The last time Apple invested heavily in making an expensive ad was its ‘1984’ commercial. After that, it has focused on creating news around its product launches. When Steve Jobs announced that he was unveiling a new product, there used to be a mad scramble to be a part of that event. His carefully crafted words ensured that everybody was talking about his new invention. As a result, people queued up for hours outside its retail outlets to be able to buy the product. Apple could have reduced the rush and sold products online, but that wasn’t newsworthy. There’s no brand that attracts queues outside its stores the way Apple does. Steve Jobs was among the first to understand the power of PR, the power of creating a buzz. These queues got people talking about Apple, increasing the excitement around each of his products (even Samsung, Apple’s arch rival, could not help but talk about these queues in its ads!).

So obsessed are people with Apple that its users believe that it’s the best without even considering the competition, for they say, “If Apple says it’s the best… well, then it is!” This perception was built not with ads, but with conversations between people. Slick PR efforts, over the years, have helped nurture these conversations.

The bottom line is that if people talk about you, then you will survive. ROM, a Romanian candy bar maker, will vouch for that. It realized that American candy bars were stealing its market share, so in one day, it replaced the packaging of all its bars with the American stars-and-stripes. Romanians were furious to see their oldest brand turn American, and there were demonstrations. The company used this to promote itself on TV. It issued a public apology and soon returned to its original packaging. What an interesting marketing stint to get the nation to talk about your product! As expected, the sales of the candy bar skyrocketed after the carefully planned ‘error’.

People need to talk about the product or service for it to succeed. Marketers are going a step further and trying to engage people in a conversation through their advertisements. It’s the new way to catch people’s attention and get them to share details about themselves. The better I know you, the better I can sell to you. The future belongs to the brand that can make consumers talk about it or talk to it.