Thursday, August 6, 2009

Too much of a good thing?

We’ve always thought of targeting as a good thing. For example, as marketers, we first identify our target audience, this includes demographics and sometimes psychographic features, and then we go after these audiences with messages that we think will appeal to them. Choosing where to place these messages has always been a big part of whether or not the campaign would be successful. And, ad dollars being what it is these days, media placements are even more thought about and streamlined. Just read a very interesting article from the NY Times about a new branch of Mediabrands, called Geomentum, that will “figure out how to divide ad dollars among the almost 40,000 ZIP codes in the United States, sometimes zeroing in on even smaller areas, like a city block”. This (and copious amounts of caffeine) just got me thinking: is this kind of hyper-targeting really a good thing? Can zeroing in too much be potentially limiting?

To start off, here’s a quote from the article:

“In a simple example, a company selling drugstore makeup for Asian women ought to advertise in neighborhoods where lots of Asian women live, and not bother pitching its products in neighborhoods heavy on white men. Once Geomentum narrowed down where Asian women lived, it would then analyze how a billboard in the neighborhood performed, versus a newspaper ad, versus a dollar-off coupon, by writing a long equation that linked store traffic and local product sales with all those variables”.

This may seem pretty logical at first, if this company’s target market is Asian women, why would they want to spend their money in a neighborhood full of white men? However, I couldn’t help but wonder…

True, putting the ads in an Asian-women-heavy neighborhood may save money, but it also puts the brand in a corner. For example, if the brand exclusively promotes its products in Asian women-heavy areas, then it may be seen by the general population as a niche product, one that only works for Asian women. This may prove to be problematic for company growth and diversification in the long run.

Also, as a brand, you can simply never know what someone is thinking when they see your product. For all the aforementioned company may know, the neighborhood full of white men may contain 20% Asian women – in the roles of girlfriends and friends. In this increasingly diverse, social, and integrated world, one can’t draw simple conclusions based on zip codes anymore.

So I think this whole super micro-targeting thing is good for the short term, as it may give brands a higher return, but as it always is the case, successful brands need to balance the short and long term benefits, and really think about how every move will impact the brand perception and value to its consumers. Much like the concept of sales and discounts, this super micro-targeting technique may help in the short term, but what about its value in the long run? Done right, this may be a valuable part of the campaign, but if brands relied too much on this, they may find themselves spending more money to fix their images.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mainstreaming


I'm watching "So You Think You can Dance", and one of the judges mused at the fact that they have 3,000 audience members in the Kodak theater "watching dancers!". The implication being that Dancing is popular now, it's "in" now. Which got me thinking, can you mainstream everything now? I mean look at our TV programs these days: Top Chef (cooking? Why would you spend hours watching people dice onions?); Dancing with the Stars (old people trying to dance?); Project Runway (fashion is great, but nearly 4 million viewers per week? 4 million people watching designers cut and glue fabric together...); the Biggest Loser (watching a whole bunch of people running on treadmills)...all these shows turn mundane or otherwise niche activities into the feature presentation. What is it about these shows that keep drawing millions of viewers every week? Methinks it's a combination of good editing (HUMAN DRAMA!!!), and peer pressure.

Good editing first -- you need the good editing to draw viewers, they have to be entertained, and what better entertainment than drama? There's an interesting post at Mind Matters about how when we watch TV, we get less lonely because we experience something called the parasocial relationship phenomenon:
  • "Parasocial relationships are the kind of one sided pseudo-relationships we develop over time with people or characters we might see on TV or in the movies. So, just as a friendship evolves through spending time together and sharing personal thoughts and opinions, parasocial relationships evolve by watching characters on our favorite TV shows, and becoming involved with their personal lives, idiosyncrasies, and experiences as if they were those of a friend"
So good editing is needed in order to establish that parasocial relationship. A good show will presumably be successful at this, and thus draw some audiences. But still, no matter how good the editing is, it's not good enough to draw upwards of 2 or 3 million viewers per episode.

This is where peer pressure comes in. The social aspect of watching these shows are valuable to us--for 2 separate reasons:

1. Participation in social context: We want to watch Idol so we can discuss it over the water cooler at work tomorrow: "ohmygod i can't believe so and so got kicked off! he was soooooo good!" If you're left out of that conversation, then you'd feel pretty alone, right? So you might as well spend an hour watching Idol just so you can join some conversations at work. Before you know it, you're emphatically expressing your grief over the loss of Sanjaya on Idol.

2. Demonstration of social value: These shows, with their format of competition, judge evaluation, and finally audience participation, have taken a step further than traditional shows in that they demonstrate a social value. They not only make the viewers part of the show (via voting or what not), but they also provide educational value. Through watching a half hour of So You Think You Can Dance, I now know the difference between par terre and en l'air . Equipped with this knowledge, I can participate in conversations that involve the show and/or the steps and throw in my two cents and sound like I know what I'm talking about. In this way, I can show off and demonstrate that I know stuff and that I am interesting: one way of attracting others.

This lethal combination of good editing and social value is what makes shows like Top Chef successful. Now, if we can only convert that idea to advertising...good creative+social value? Sounds like a winning campaign to me!