So it finally happened -- my computer got hijacked by the scourge of Spyware that has given this entire medium one hell of a bad name and lingering hangover.
The story began on a Tuesday -- not unlike the one two days ago -- where someone in the Jaffe household inadvertently conjured up the dark spirits through the Ouija board commonly referred to as a keyboard.
As legend goes, it was either my 3-year old daughter who surfs at a frenzied pace on sites like mylittlepony.com or nickjr.com or my mother-in-law (and I mention her for two reasons: she is an avid reader of jaffe juice and I told her I’d mention her in one of my upcoming articles) who fell prey to the warning that the computer was not optimized, succumbed to the false promise of getting rid of pop-ups (as if), or just hit the wrong "x" at the wrong time.
The rest, as they say in the classics, was history.
Within two days, the computer was practically inoperable. Our homepage had been changed from msn.com to zestyfind.com. Our CPU was processing slower than the line moves at a local post office. Pop-up windows were spawning faster than popcorn kernels could ever aspire to explode. Hardcore porn forced me several times to cover the screen with my entire body in order to shield the XXX from my unsuspecting daughter.
The answer to the age old question, "Who owns the desktop?" had suddenly become a lot clearer: Certainly not me!
I was rendered practically helpless. I couldn’t even get deep enough into download.com to install the latest antidotes (Spybot and Ad-Aware). In fact, the former link on download.com was corrupt -- or rather intentionally corrupted, I suspect. Ultimately, I found a mirror site somewhere in France.
After two to three days of frustrating trial and error -- which usually involved accessing the computer without an active Internet connection and constantly rebooting -- I ran Spybot and was greeted with…wait for it…170 different processes which spanned the gamut from malware to the good old fashioned tracking cookie.
Here are the results of my Spybot query (ahem):
Bargain Buddy (6 occurrences)
Booked Space (4 occurrences)
DyFuCA.Internet Optimizer (8 occurrences)
DyFuCA (6 occurrences)
eXact Search Bar (exact advertising)
eZulaHotText (69 occurrences)
Hotbar (6 occurrences)
nCase (180 solutions)
TurboDownload (6 occurrences)
VX2/e (direct revenue)
Now, whilst I have no idea how many of the above programs were already resident on my computer before the you-know-what hit the CPU fan, I can assure you that in no instances were any of the processes ever explicitly opted-in or condoned.
After running Spybot and Ad-Aware, executing the uninstall programs command off my control panel, and at times, literally deleting entire folders without any regard whatsoever for the after-effects of conducting open heart surgery without an anesthetic, the computer began to take on some degree of normalcy.
Grand prize, without question, went to eZula -- exceptionally difficult to uninstall. In fact, several times it politely reinstalled itself, much to my disdain and chagrin. Conspicuously absent were oft-talked about so-called offenders Claria and WhenU. Coincidence or not?
And so, it finally dawned on me why the first reaction from anyone asking me what I do for a living is, "so are you the guy responsible for all those pop-ups?" To anyone reading this who has hasn’t experienced an infestation first-hand, I would recommend you subject yourself to this invasion of the barbarians (preferably on someone else’s computer if possible) in order to really understand what we’re up against.
If someone like myself, who is expected to be at least fairly "tech savvy," would have so much difficulty -- three full days worth-- eradicating such vermin, can you image how defenseless people like my mother-in-law are to the endless attacks of low-life?
In the case of this sample size of one, I was on the brink of reformatting my entire hard drive -- although I gladly settled for donating a few Jacksons (the new kind of course) to the friendly folk at Spybot for their no-strings-attached freeware.
What really struck me amidst all the tumult was the antithesis of the Lending Tree slogan, "when banks compete. you win" -- when adware vendors compete, you lose! Just like every other category in this world, there is only room at the top for a handful of players -- everyone and everything else is just noise.
Off to run another immunization/diagnostic check (sigh).
Make sure your content doesn't trigger deliverability red flags. Emails that have a poor text-to-graphics ratio or use a "from" name that isn't recognized are less likely to be delivered. To ensure deliverability, follow these guidelines:
- Use an email provider that has tested templates that support a good balance of text boxes and graphics.
- Make sure your messages contain less than 60 percent HTML or graphics.
- Test your emails before issuing an entire campaign to ensure your graphics/text balance won't create deliverability problems.
- Use a recognizable and consistent email address and "from" name for all of your emails. Encourage your recipients to white-list this address. This will usually trump all other anti-spam checks in delivering mail to large ISPs.
- Know your audience. For instance, in B2B, it is important to include keywords in your content and test these keywords periodically to ensure they remain relevant. Your audience will judge your mail based on the content. It plays the biggest role in influencing whether someone will click or complain.
Know your stats. Leverage as much data as possible in order to figure out your version of "normal" performance. Knowing where you stand makes it much easier to avoid serious issues, as you can react to potential problems quickly. It also makes it easier to pat yourself on the back when you improve your results. Having an intimate knowledge of your stats is critical in helping you differentiate between suspected delivery issues and poor client response.
Guard your reputation as a good email marketer. With email marketing, reputation is everything, and it's key to keeping your deliverability rates high. To a large degree your reputation will be affected by how many spam reports are filed against you. To avoid spam notices:
- Send relevant emails. The more relevant the mail, the more likely it is to be delivered and opened. Leverage the use of technologies such as dynamic content, email automation ("workflows"), and segmentation, in order to provide the most timely and relevant content to the recipient.
- Make sure your emails are easy to recognize. Use subject lines that carry a consistent theme that recipients will associate with your brand.
- Ensure content is clean and professional.
- Treat each email deployment as a million-dollar commercial. Use a mission control style checklist process to minimize deployment mistakes.
- Monitor your open rates, click rates, and other key indicators. If they're declining, revisit the relevancy of your campaigns and tweak content and subject lines to be more appealing.
Know your customers' interests. No matter how good your message is, if it's not relevant to the interests of your customers, it's a failed campaign. Knowing your audience is the best way to ensure your email campaigns connect with your customers. Base your campaigns on what they want and like, aligning their interests with what you have to offer. Here are few tips that will help you get to know your customer better:
- In exchange for contact information, offer your customers something of value: a newsletter, a free seminar, or more information about your products and services.
- When gathering contact information, gather only the demographic information you really need. Asking for unnecessary information annoys people and may discourage them from signing up.
- Manage your contact lists so you can respond quickly and efficiently to requests for more information or requests to unsubscribe.
- Since email addresses can change frequently, maintain the integrity of your email list by carefully tracking the number of bounce-backs or undeliverable emails after every campaign. Monitoring lack of response to your campaigns is an important aspect of knowing your audience.
Use transactional emails to your advantage. Transactional emails are highly relevant and personalized communications and therefore are more likely to be opened than regular email campaigns. Transactional emails can be as simple as:
- "Welcome" and "Thank you" notices
- Password reminders
- Shipping notifications
Since the customer is expecting these emails, you've already reached a level of personalization that opens the door for you to learn even more about them. Include additional promotions based on their preferences while also asking for feedback or suggestions. The more information you gather, the more personalized you can make your email communications.
What to look for when choosing an ESP
You should consider an ESP that goes above and beyond basic compliance management.
The ESP should have:
- Dedicated deliverability staff whose sole responsibility is to constantly improve technology and services to help ensure that your emails get to the inbox.
- Strong familiarity with the top-tier internet service providers and third-party spam scoring services.
- Demonstrated industry leadership, through participation in the shaping and promotion of email marketing best practices with industry organizations such as the Email Sender and Provider Coalition and the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group.
Whether you're a big box retailer or small business owner, much of your email marketing campaign success and deliverability performance is under your control. Find the right ESP that is a fit for your business, follow email marketing best practices, and enjoy the rewards and ROI of one of most effective tools for marketing your business online.
Yes, sex can sell -- but it's down to luck
It may be a cliché, but yes, sex (or in this case, adult-orientated content) does have the potential to sell -- but in my opinion, it's all down to luck. Let's look at a few examples:
Wonderbra's "Hello Boys"
Although it was almost 20 years ago when Eva Herzigova appeared on billboards around the U.K. in nothing but her underwear, the impact of this now iconic piece of visual content remains fierce. Labeled "the poster image of the 90s" by the campaign's editor, Stefano Hatfield, the photograph's eye-catching nature allegedly caused car accidents throughout the U.K.
Such was the campaign's popularity that Wonderbra sales subsequently skyrocketed by 41 percent. Manufacturer Playtex confirmed that in the months following, it sold 25,000 bras per week. What's more, the campaign has taken many accolades -- including "Campaign of the Year" during the year of its inception, 1994, and more recently, the title "Most iconic advertising image of all time" (awarded by the Outdoor Media Centre).
Herzigova's legacy lives on still, in the form of the more modern, but similar Wonderbra adverts we see today and the 2012 Decoder app launched by the brand. It allowed users to see what seemed like a fully-clothed model in just her underwear, by scanning special posters with their smartphone. (Talk about controversial content!)
Would I label the "Hello Boys" campaign a success? Hell yeah -- and a big one at that. It increased the brand's sales, overall awareness, and is still making an impact 19 years on. Would a simple picture of a bra have achieved that? I doubt it.
Snickers' "You're not you when you're hungry"
Playing on the fact that most of us get a bit grumpy, disorientated, or confused when we're hungry, this image -- taken from Snickers' latest campaign -- really hits the nail on the head. It is a great visual representation of that feeling, but is admittedly a bit saucy. In fact, it's probably the most controversial part of the whole campaign (that's unless you can call Joan Collins in a male locker room risqué).
No matter what your feelings toward this lady, who appears in a partial state of undress and presumably heading for the bedroom, the whole campaign has netted Snickers significant sales growth. In the impulse sales channel alone (i.e. purchases that aren't pre-planned), year-on-year sales are up by 750,000. Sales in other channels have experienced double-digit growth too, according to MediaCom, the agency behind the campaign. Quite simply, it worked.
Yves Saint Laurent's "Opium"
In the year 2000, in a bid to re-energize its flagging reputation in the fashion world, Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) took a risk. It created a piece of imagery that has become iconic for all the wrong reasons, labeled the eighth most-complained-about advert of the past 50 years by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).
The infamous poster shows an almost-naked Sophie Dahl posing on a couch, her flame-red hair offsetting her pale skin. Some 948 people took offense to the content, causing the ASA to deem it "likely to cause serious or widespread offence." YSL was banned from using the visual content on billboards, but was allowed to publish it in appropriate magazines. Some might argue that when viewed in context, it was no more offensive than Eva Herzigova's Wonderbra advert (which, in 1994, was considered racy). By the "Noughties," people were becoming more liberated and open; perhaps making Dahl's piece very "of its time."
So, was it a winner? Well, granted people are still talking about it 13 years on, YSL has never really lived it down. However, the situation begs the question: Does the fact it was voted one of the most offensive ads of all-time outweigh any potential increases in sales the fashion house gained at the time? It's difficult to say, but what this example does show is that when it comes to using adult content to your advantage, success does partly come down to luck.
When newsjacking doesn't work
In the past 18 months or so, one new medium has driven the increased publication of controversial content -- newsjacking. The act of using breaking news events to a brand's advantage, by publishing content (be it a blog, tweet, or video) that demonstrates their take on it, newsjacking has become very popular with international brands. Sometimes it works really well, gaining brands lots of additional web traffic and increased awareness. It can also backfire if done in an insensitive way, though...
The CelebBoutique and Aurora incident
Not long after the tragic Aurora shooting took place in Colorado, in July 2012, CelebBoutique (which sells celebrity-inspired clothing) published the following tweet on its Twitter feed:
What looked like an attempt to capitalize on an American tragedy in a bid to make a few sales was later labeled a "misunderstanding" by the brand. It followed up the tweet with others that read: "We apologize for our misunderstanding about Aurora. -- CB" and "We are incredibly sorry for our tweet about Aurora" -- amongst others. Unfortunately the apologies proved too little, too late for CelebBoutique, whose content had by then been picked up by news outlets around the world. The Huffington Post even set up a poll asking readers what they thought of the error.
Even now, eight months on, a Google search for "CelebBoutique" brings up results with names like "CelebBoutique blows its chances of selling things every again" and "Insensitive and stupid: CelebBoutique makes light of Aurora." This is a great indicator of the long-term impact posting controversial content can have -- whether it has paid off or not. It's definitely something to consider before hitting the "publish" button.
Neel Patel's "Hurricane Hair"
When Hurricane Sandy struck America last October, many companies tried to capitalize on its destruction by sending out special email deals (yes, I'm talking to you American Apparel) or how-to guides on keeping your nails tidy during the storm -- so Neel Patel wasn't alone when he launched his "Hurricane Hair" Pinterest board.
Although nothing has been confirmed by Patel (a self-labeled "eclectic & eccentric entrepreneur"), he presumably launched the board in a bid to promote his own website. Although it didn't reach the heady heights of others' attempts to do the same, his Pinterest board was picked up by external media and touted as being in bad taste by some -- for potentially making light of what was a very serious and, in some cases, life-threatening situation. Although he didn't appear to be such a big deal prior to the Pinterest incident, whatever reputation he did have is likely to have been tarnished as a result.
The pros and cons outlined
As you can see, publishing risqué content is most definitely a risk. It has pros and cons. When it works, it really works; potentially boosting sales. When it doesn't, it can have a negative impact on a brand's reputation. Let's look at the pros and cons in detail:
- Pros: Can escalate brand awareness, increase audience reach, improve sales/profit, encourage positive social reaction towards the brand, and have a long-term impact on the brand's nationwide or worldwide reputation.
- Cons: Can result in lost sales/profit, encourage negative social reaction towards the brand, and damage the brand's nationwide or worldwide reputation -- which could take months, if not years to recover.
You'll see that the pros and cons are very similar -- that's because it really can go either one way or the other. However, that doesn't mean your brand should avoid publishing controversial content altogether. It just comes down to going about it in a sensitive, well-thought-through manner.
How can we utilize controversial content?
Firstly, think very carefully about what you want to achieve from your controversial content. Maybe you want to drive traffic toward your website, using targeted keywords. Or you might want to encourage conversation around your brand on social media. This is a key benefit of opting for risqué content. After all, in their paper titled "When, why and how controversy causes conversation," writers Jonah A. Berger and Zoey Chen say, "Controversial topics are more interesting to talk about, which -- in turn -- increases the chance they will be discussed."
If it's increased social media presence you're after, then you'll have to be ultra-sensitive with your controversial content. For example, if another Hurricane Sandy hit, you could produce some content that helped those going through it -- perhaps a how-to guide to surviving the storm. That would get people talking about your brand for all the right reasons. The operative point here is that under no circumstances should you appear to make light of a bad situation.
What's more, as Chen and Berger say, "self-enhancement goals influence what people talk about," use your controversial content to make your target audience feel like they've learned something and could pass some real knowledge on to their peers by sharing your content. That way, they are more likely to react positively to it.
A/B testing should be your friend here. If you're a bit scared about publishing anything really controversial, start off with something small -- like a newsjack of a recent event. Don't publicize it too much, but do push it out to your social networks. Measure the reaction and base your future decisions on that; perhaps taking it further next time.
All in all, a bit of common sense will go far. Look over any content before it is published. If you and other members of your team wouldn't react positively to a brand that published it, don't do it. If you feel it would endear you to a brand, go for it. Good luck!
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"Cropped closeup of a woman wearing red lipstick" image via Shutterstock.