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How to Make Targeting Work

How to Make Targeting Work Staff

Remember back in the early days of Internet marketing? When vendors promised one-to-one targeting based on personally identifiable information? It was a marketer's dream that quickly turned into a nightmare when privacy advocates stepped in.

Welcome it back, in the form of behavioral marketing -- the new generation of one-to-one targeting based on the online actions of consumers and their interests, rather than on who they are.

Learn about this effective targeting technique, how marketers are using it, and what vendors currently offer it:

Behavioral Targeting 101
Specialists explain what this functionality is and isn't about (first of two parts).

Behavioral Targeting 101 Part 2
What differentiates companies in this space (last of two parts).

Behavior vs. Context
Understanding the difference can keep you from being unceremoniously dumped on the "no" pile.

Interpreting the Art of Behavioral Marketing
Dave Morgan of Tacoda Systems discusses how to decipher behavioral data for maximum benefit.

Four Steps to Better Behavior Marketing
Any marketer for any business can develop effective behavior-driven plans that grow the business. And online can deliver significant business impact.

Changing the Privacy Paradigm
Industry needs to teach users that behavioral targeting, if done right, can actually increase privacy.

1. Identify your practical needs
Do you need a big brain, tech savants, masters of media, social media experimenters, an army of coders, or just reliable arms and legs to execute your strategy, compensate for your too-lean staff, or interface with your IT guys? Understanding the real need and the division of labor between you and your agency is the first step in the RFP process. Be clear about how much control, direction, and outsourcing you intend to do.

Next, recognize that different agencies have different levels of name recognition, positioning, and points of origin that shape their competence, their processes, their ability to engage, and their price. No single agency is great at everything. Every agency has its core competencies and its good and bad days.

2. Don't re-fight the last war
Often RFPs seek to overcome and compensate for the failures and disappointments with a current agency. Yet, be careful not to overvalue or overcorrect for these specific issues, as they are likely to be a product of a particular agency-client pathology -- partly a result of your technical, political, personality, or marketing landscape and partly a matter of casting, chemistry, timing, or emphasis by the agency.

Focus on the mission (i.e., what needs to be done). Do you need a dramatic increase in market share, an improvement in ecommerce conversion, regular technical tweaks, media optimization, a more systematic and integrated campaign management approach, or a complete brand re-stage? The task required compared with the state of the business ought to be the prime directive in shaping your agency search. 

3. Take the political temperature
You have to decide how much brand equity, brainpower, speed, creativity, media intimacy, or technical chops you want, need, or are willing to pay for at the outset. Do you need quick-and-dirty or famous-and flashy? Are you looking to impress the C-suite or are you looking to augment or complement the skills of your staff? Ask yourself: How much validation or blame will you assign to the agency?

Then compare the needed skills with the budget you have to spend. How much of the budget are you willing to spend on travel, out of pocket expenses, and infrastructure? Do you want a marquee New York agency owned by a global holding company, an independent firm with a hot reputation in your vertical, or two renegade guys in a room completely dedicated to your brand? What will your management accept, appreciate, and buy?

Once you clarify your own needs and the desires of your management, you are ready to structure the RFP process. Give yourself six months. Assume the exercise will take 90-120 days and that a subsequent notice, transition, and contracting period will be of equal length. Some firms prefer to outsource the search effort; others do it themselves or construct a hybrid division of labor. The critical variable is a sense of control. Pick the solution that gives you optimal control of the process and the outcome.

4. Cover the basics
The three fundamental questions you need to answer in any RFP process are:

  • Who are they?

  • What are they truly good at?

  • Can we sue them if they screw us?

Every agency worth its salt has standard language to answer these questions and financial details and references to substantiate its fiscal viability. You have to ask these questions, but you'll be surprised at how similar the answers are and how little real differentiation you get when comparing responses. Everyone is fabulous, with the greatest teams skilled at every task you can imagine. Everyone has great case studies, screen grabs, intricate process maps, snappy bios, and ironclad financials.

This material is the basic ante -- table stakes in the game. All this material should be understood as a check-off rather than as critical variables. Those who can't produce this kind of information on a dime aren't ready for your serious consideration.

5. Surface your working team
There are pitch teams and working teams. Pitch teams are the agency's smoothest, senior, accomplished veteran players. They are smart, glib, practiced, and polished. Working teams are the munchkins behind the scenes you rarely see in a pitch. In many cases, an agency will not empanel a working team until they win the business, so in many cases, your working team is a fantasy.

Require your working team to be the pitch team. This will ensure that you get a clear look at the people you'll be working with. Allow the senior supervisors to help, but insist that the agency identify and engage the account executives, account supervisors, and frontline creative, media, or technical people who will actually work on your business. Be sure to meet the digital producer and/or the project manager because these individuals will really run your business and your budgets day by day.

6. Probe for process
Mechanics, skill, and speed determine productivity. Agencies are notoriously slower and more expensive than client organizations and frequently have ad hoc processes that can leave you vulnerable. Figure out how the agency works and how it takes in and processes the information you give it. Compare that with your internal processes and your productivity tolerances.

Are you willing to wait four weeks for a five-paragraph email? Will a mini-site or a landing page take 30, 60, or 90 days to complete? How many levels of editorial review and QA will those banner ads get? Will they traffic drafts digitally or on paper? Will they deploy secure intranets or just use FTP sites? Ask for process briefings and go through the agency process carefully to understand who does what to whom and when. Give them hypothetical assignments and ask for production time lines.

7. Identify agency partners
In this climate, it makes little economic sense for agencies to retain full-time people to manage occasional or contingent tasks. Almost every agency relies on freelancers, vendors, and partners to round out their service offerings. List the tasks they do themselves and those they share with vendors or partners. Compare the home-grown tasks with your top priority needs. Then ask about the freelancers and vendors and how they manage these partner relationships. Require case studies to show productivity and business results.

8. Illuminate experience
If they did for somebody else, it's likely they can do it for you, too. Identify your top priority needs and seek out analogous work that the agencies have done. Map their experience to your needs. Be as specific as possible. Carefully examine the planning process and the business goals and connect the dots. Look at creative examples and media plans. Get them talking about how they came up with the ideas in competitive contexts. You are looking for insightful thinking, smart execution, and the ability to redeploy these skills on your behalf. And while experience is not 100 percent predictive of future results, all things being equal, an agency that has done the task you need has a greater chance of doing it right again for you.

9. Look for efficiencies
Will the agency learn how to do things on your nickel or do they bring well-established learnings, relationships, procedures, and added value to the table? Ask the agency about standing relationships and deals with technical vendors, media outlets, or infrastructure suppliers. Ask them to outline and document approaches and philosophies on topics of importance to your marketing effort. You are looking to leverage their experience and their network to your benefit. Your goal in investigating these relationships is to assess the likely added value you get by selecting a particular agency on the basis of its experience and contacts.

Be as specific as you can and be relentless in follow-up questioning. Ask pointed questions: Do you believe rich media yields incremental conversion? Do you prefer one web platform over another and why? Which off-the-shelf CRM solution have you used most often and why? Which media will grant you (and us) most-favored nation deals? Ask for examples of skillful media and vendor negotiations and then ask for the marketing and business impact of these financial efficiencies.

10. Check references
No one will give you a bad reference. But ask probing questions about the nature of the relationship, the timing of projects, any claimed victories, and/or the day-to-day working experience. Ask pointed questions about the leadership, the working team, timing, and costs. Ask specifically about the things that went wrong. There always are a few. Sometimes understanding how an agency recovers from a screw-up is the most illuminating insight into their operation.

Once you have satisfied yourself that the short list agencies have the requisite experience, relationships, and energy, it's time to get creative. In many cases, your finalists will have equivalent experience, relationships, and skill sets. They will have jumped the financial bar and provided strong references. You'll need to devise an ordeal to establish true differences and to gauge how well you are likely to work with each of them.

11. Road test the finalist agencies
Don't ask for spec creative or free strategic thinking. Instead, ask agencies to participate in a live 90-minute strategy session. This more than anything will give you a live feel for what it will be like to work with any given agency team.

In structuring the live working session, follow this formula:

  1. Prepare real data to identify and document a real business issue or scenario that the agency will face. Supply this to the agency one week ahead of the session. Be sure all participating agencies have signed non-disclosure agreements in advance.

  2. Insist that only two senior people and the working team assigned to your business can participate.

  3. Limit the session to 90 minutes. Set a clear outcome for the meeting. For example, the meeting should yield a campaign theme and three tactics to address this particular marketing problem.

  4. Have your team -- the people who will interact with the agency each day --participate in the session. Run it as if the relationship existed.

  5. Use an independent leader. Don't lead the session if you are assessing the outcome.

  6. Devise a scorecard that accounts for the quality of the ideas, the creativity of the team, the experience demonstrated, and the chemistry between the participants.

  7. Measure how prepared the agencies were and what outside data, information, or experience they brought to the party.

  8. Try to understand the relative contributions of the senior agency people versus the working team members.

  9. Ask your people which team they liked best and why.

  10. Weight this exercise relative to the other intelligence you've developed to make a final decision.

Finding the right agency partner can be a crucial step toward getting better business results. You want to break through the expected and sidestep the pat answers. The process should force contenders out of their comfort zones. Agencies have significant differences in style, skill, and leadership. Using these concepts should give you a head start toward identifying them and comparing them to your individual marketing needs.

Daniel Flamberg is managing partner at Booster Rocket.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Kia centered an entire digital campaign around a cat

Let's begin by looking at an example of a major brand that took a chance with cats and found huge success. In 2011, H20 Media decided to promote the Kia Picanto in a digital campaign that set the bar for online innovation. The brand could have simply repurposed this Picanto commercial:

But instead, it decided to extend the story and craft a digital campaign that was told from the perspective of Henry the Cat, the co-star of the ad. On an interactive website, the cat takes us on a tour of the car and its features. Henry walks (on cat level) the visitor through an experience and displays the features, jumps in and out of the car, and watches funny videos with the visitor as they learn about the product.

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

In addition, a Facebook app was created called the Roaar-O-Meter where you can record yourself roaring using a webcam and microphone. Depending on how loud you are, the sound is transformed into either a lion's roar or a kitty's meow. There's a high score list, multiple sharing features, and a "challenge friends" function so friends can join in. This social integration gave people the ability to engage personally with the brand, all through the lens, perspective, and context of a cat.

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

They also created the Fight for your Picanto app for game-orientated users. It's basically a G-rated Mortal Combat, except you use adorable felines as your fighting friends. A new touch control system was developed specifically for the application. You can challenge your friends to a cat fight all while being visually branded by the Kia Picanto.

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

Kia was able to create an amazingly successful traditional commercial, digital interactive campaign, social strategy, and mobile gaming app all from the context provided by this little guy:

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

Next, we'll see how Kia took on internet memes as well.

Cats rule internet memes

As I mentioned before, cat memes are the most popular type of captioned image on the web. As a digital marketer, it might be easy to look at internet memes as a low quality and juvenile way of promoting your brand. Kia took a different approach.

Partnering with Cheezburger, Kia took its promotion of the Sorento to unexplored levels in December when it created the "Seasons Memeing Contest." It encouraged fans on the site to caption memes featuring the Kia Sorento Crossover vehicle. Here are a few of the awesome entries:

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

Memes from Cheezburger.com

Despite what you think of them, at the end of the day, Kia was able to get consumers to take the time to create content for the brand. If you're wondering what young consumer brand engagement looks like, this is it.

Next, we'll take a look at another example of a brand whose sales exploded because of cats.

The "Cats With Thumbs" ad exploded sales for this brand

Have you ever heard of Cravendale milk? Neither have I. Have you ever heard of "Cats with Thumbs?" Me too.

This British milk brand worked with Wieden + Kennedy to produce the wildly popular ad "Cats with Thumbs."

So why didn't this milk brand decide to use a cow in its commercial? That would've made more sense, right? Maybe because that same year it did.

The commercial with the cow has received 203,000 views so far. "Cats with Thumbs?" Almost 7 million.

You could argue that "Cats with Thumbs" is just a better commercial, but take a close look at both of them. Both are funny, both have high production values, and both are the same length. "Cats with Thumbs" tapped into something deeper than just a milk promotion. It shifted people's feelings toward the brand itself. It deepened the relationship between the audience and the brand.

Need proof? After "Cats with Thumbs" aired, Cravendale saw:

  • Brand awareness increase of 10 percent

  • Sales increase of 8 percent

  • 7 million YouTube views

  • Voted in the top 10 best commercials of 2011 by Adweek

Not to mention that Bertrum (the cat in the ad) received his own Facebook page. The page currently has more than 84,000 "likes."

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

What were cats able to provide Cravendale? More brand awareness, a positive brand outlook, a dramatic sales increase, and a popular consumer driven mascot. For one ad, that's enough for any marketer to go:

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

Next up, we'll explore the psychology behind consumers' love of cats.

Cats create emotional connections to brands

There is a direct and proven connection between sales volumes and the emotion connection your audience has toward a brand. Unfortunately, emotions are not something you can buy. They are something you have to earn by being bold in your messaging. Playing it safe doesn't do it anymore.

Cat owners have been shown to treat and see their cats as family members. They provide people with therapy and emotional comfort.

People tend to take their personal experiences and project them onto products. I get tense when I see an airplane because I hate flying (regardless of the airline). I get excited when I see a roller coaster because I love riding in them (regardless of the theme park). Cat lovers love seeing cats. They'll project that good feeling onto your brand if they see them together in a fun and memorable way. Combine that with the sheer popularity cats have on the internet, and you might just have the makings of a fail-proof digital campaign. Here are just a few advertisements (not about cat products) that capitalized on the power of a good, expressive feline photo.

Enfapro Powdered Milk

9 reasons your marketing should include cats


9 reasons your marketing should include cats

Pizza Hut

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

United Bamboo

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

Next we'll look at the anatomy of why customers connect so deeply with our feline friends.

Cats project human emotions

Theologian Albert Schweitzer once said, "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."

If you want your audience to laugh, share, and be entertained, nothing does it better than a good cat photo. In fact, the grey matter in cats' brains share intense similarities to ours, proving that cats feel emotions that are very similar to people's. Cats' expressions of happiness, excitement, anger, playfulness, and surprise are all relatable and personalized emotions we connect with.





9 reasons your marketing should include cats

What immediate benefits can your brand see from cats? We'll discuss that next.

Cats can help re-introduce your old brand to Millennials

Traditional brands have an increasingly large problem: connecting with the youth. It's not surprising that a seasoned company and veteran marketers would have a hard time looking at this:

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

And think this:

Marketers don't usually associate cats with a successful marketing tool. But the reality is that a picture of this British Shorthair cat was so popular that it helped spur the creation of one of the most popular websites in the world, Cheezburger.com.

While its valuation remains unknown, Cheezburger has raised more than $32 million dollars from investors. That's a lot of cheddar for a website full of memes. Or rather, that's a lot of cheez.

According to Quantcast, the site pulls in 3.6 million monthly readers, more than half of which are under the age of 34. If you want to reach young people quickly, you need to know your memes. If you want to know your memes, you need to know cats. If you can use them wisely (and hysterically), you can generate a huge amount of consumer engagement from the Millennial generation.

A lot of brands don't want their products to have a humorous association, which is something that cats inherently produce. But think about this: Who would have thought a year ago that an American beer company would produce one of the most emotional and serious Super Bowl commercials ever?

Budweiser is a brand just begging for a funny advertisement, especially during the Super Bowl. If it can be bold and take its campaign to a different emotional place, your seemingly serious brand can certainly get away with a successful funny campaign. What's the fastest way to ensure success in today's youth driven digital environment?

9 reasons your marketing should include cats

Next, you'll read why cats are a good idea simply from a numbers perspective.

Cats get huge internet views

Digital marketers love engagement. We've already seen from Kia that using cats wisely can give consumers a fun and highly engaging digital experience. The next thing marketers love is campaign popularity. Marketers want their work to go viral. Did you know that six of the top 10 most popular animal videos on the web are cat videos?

Cats go viral with more frequency and speed than any other internet animal. If you want your brand to get seen, throw a cat in your campaign, and you'll certainly get people's attention. Once that first step is accomplished, seamlessly mix in branding, messaging, information, and call-to-actions. A great example is this hilarious Electronic Data Systems Corp. commercial.

EDS didn't upload this to YouTube, but it's all over the internet with more than 4 million views because people loved it and wanted to share it. Whether they know it or not, they are also sharing a brand. That's powerful organic awareness, and it's thanks in large part to dozens of cats.

Lastly, a word of warning when using cats in your marketing.

Cats have a passionate following, so don't make fun of them

Finally, if you decide to create an ad campaign with cats, do yourself a favor and don't make fun of them. Audiences don't like it when you point out the joke you're trying to go for, especially if you're trying to sell something. It's comes across as tacky, like in this Toyota RAV4 commercial.

This ad was launched in March 2012 and only has 141,000 views. That's just sad. Audiences simply didn't find it funny, and a huge part of it was because they were poking fun at cats being so popular online. This ad has a real feeling of elitism. Cats are a force unlike any other, and people are genuinely passionate about them. Treat them well and use them right. If you can remember that, cats will become powerful allies for your brand.

In this digital world, cats are a fun, exciting, and endearing animal to consider incorporating into your marketing strategy. The internet is waiting for your contribution to this undeniable feline phenomenon.

David Zaleski is the associate media producer for iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"British shorthair cat, in front of purple background," "Evil looking hairless cat looking backwards," "Six cute kittens sitting inside in pastel containers," "Small gray tabby kitten meowing while sitting in the grass," "Black and white cat," "Cat in smart clothes with the money and red caviar on a white," "A Portrait of a Fat, Orange Tabby Cat Sitting, Isolated on White," "Close-up portrait photo of a CPA cat looking out through a window," "Surprised Cat," and "Tabby cat" images via Shutterstock.

Will the real creator of "Interstellar" please step up?

That's right, Peter Rosenthal is the real writer, director, and producer of "Interstellar." As per usual with the Onion, this is pretty clever.

A parliament about nothing

Haaaaaaa. This is pretty brilliant. We imagine if you are Australian (or follow Aussie politics) and are a Seinfeld fan then you were rolling on the floor. So well done.

Pup 681

Your daily dose of adorable would only be more adorable if this little orphaned sea otter pup had a name instead of a number -- maybe he has a number because he's a failed science experiment and will turn out to be one of the X-Men? Nah, he's too adorable. Wolverine wasn't adorable. Happy Thursday everyone.

Article written by associate media producer Brian Waters.


After a full work day, maybe one following an all-nighter with a teething baby and a helpless husband, all most moms want is a hot bath and an episode of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians." The idea of attending an evening networking event, overnight conference or even a quick happy hour becomes a guilt-ridden choice. But the advantages of attending are clear: it helps strengthen relationships, close deals, and get promotions. Face time is incredibly important in this business. Unfortunately, many moms choose to opt out because it interrupts what limited family or personal time they have left.

So how are moms reconciling the need to network? Evette Mesrobian, director of sales for Spongecell in Los Angeles, created "Moms in Digital" monthly networking lunches. This supportive group of agency and sales leaders bond over shared experiences. 

"The idea for Moms in Digital stemmed from the fact that we all work in an industry that is extremely fast-paced and ever-changing, and requires a mastered skill of multi-tasking for success. Add to that the parallel requirements of being a mom, and you have a group of individuals that should be commended for being successful at balancing two very demanding jobs. The group brings us together not only to network with similar individuals, but also vent, laugh, and know that we are not alone in this juggling act," says Mesrobian.

With kids aged from 8 months to 10 years, these moms are not only sharing parenting tidbits, but also strengthening their professional networks in a way that is personally meaningful and perhaps professionally more valuable than just another happy hour. Support from friends is key to managing stress and more moms should consider forming their own groups.

Breastfeeding and the workplace

While the U.S. Department of Labor requires that employers give nursing mothers lactation breaks and a private space (not a bathroom) to pump, the reality is that conditions vary. When it comes to supporting working moms, says Stephanie Waddle, VP group media director at Deustch, "Having a secure and private pumping room is No. 1. I've heard too many stories about women having to pump in stalls, etc., and having it be very embarrassing." In addition, the constant "on the go" aspect of the job, frequent travel, and back-to-back meetings makes it difficult to schedule those breaks.

Maggie Romanavich, associate media manager for Constellation Brands, helped initiate a "mothers' room" program and in doing so, won her company the Breastfeeding in the Workplace award through the Chicago Breastfeeding Coalition.

She recalls, "There were three of us that came back (from leave) at the same time, and we were able to talk to the HR department. They bought us pumps, and we get a really pretty room… a refrigerator, we all got our own personal locked filing cabinets. We had a cork board so we could put pictures of our babies up there. It was nice to have that group of moms and be able to share that together."

At the very least, companies should be providing the reasonable accommodations required by law. But those that go the extra mile in accommodating nursing moms will bring an appreciated benefit and relief for new moms when they return to work. 

In the fast-paced world of digital, many women worry about losing their edge while on maternity leave, even for just a few months. Shreya Kushari, SVP, search marketing at DigitasLBi North America in New York admitted, "To be frank, I don't think I ever stopped working. I was always checking my emails, and I would be available for anything urgent. It's just the nature of the business that we are in. And that's how I felt. Nobody asked me to do it or expected me to do it. I just felt that if I want to be competitive and if I want to do what I need to for my career, then I will have to 'lean in'… while on my maternity leave I never felt completely disconnected."

The conversation about what happens when an employee goes on maternity leave needs to happen well in advance.  For example, when Danielle Cravatt, VP sales, southwest for Exponential, announced her pregnancy to her company she was breaking new ground:

"I am the only female manager at my level at my company, so when I got pregnant there were really no boundaries around what happens with maternity leave, maternity pay, and what happens when you come back. Rather than leaving it to chance, I wrote the pages in my own book and said, 'Here's what I think is fair,' and started establishing policy. We have a lot of female employees, and I want them to feel -- when the time comes for them -- they're in a very comfortable environment."

Employers should make sure maternity leave policies are established and communicated before the need arises. Even smaller companies in start-up mode should proactively establish and promote those practices to attract and retain female talent.

On the other hand, employees should set expectations with their teams about their availability while on leave and when they return to work, as their daily schedule may need to shift. Meetings at 6 p.m. may no longer be possible, and moms tend to become more disciplined about time management on the job because every minute has to count.

Finding inspiration by mentoring

Women are often drawn to the field of marketing not only for its creative aspects, but also its collaborative ones. Developing talent through training and mentorship is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.

Patricia Ni, VP digital account director at Initiative in Los Angeles puts it this way: "I love mentoring the 'young kids' as they grow and become savvy media professionals… and that's probably why I've been doing this and stayed here for so long."

Employers should consider building upon that passion. Empower your talent to create mentoring programs to help junior staff develop specific skills, in addition to any formal training, and allow those with a specific interest to help create those training programs.

Additionally, training could potentially open new career paths within the organization previously unexplored. Perhaps a senior agency leader could run workshops and training programs on an ongoing basis for staff in place of some of the standard client responsibilities. Though these hours may be considered non-client billable, imagine the upsides: better employee retention, better trained staff, and optimized workflow or processes across the teams.

Family-friendly office culture

An office culture that supports parents can create a huge impact on employee satisfaction. For instance, Deutsch has implemented a unique approach, according to Waddle: "I attend a mom's group from a local parenting/family therapist that is organized by partner EVP Kim Getty at Deutsch and the HR department. The therapist comes once a month, and Deutsch caters lunch in a conference room. We are encouraged to select a topic prior to our meeting to hold a focus in our 1 1/2 hours we have together. Topics range from sleep or potty training, playground politics to finding balance in our personal lives." As another example of agency-provided benefits for parents, Horizon Media guarantees employees time off to attend their children's school functions, in addition to the standard paid time off policy.

Across the board, working parents tend to place high value on flexibility in their work schedules or opportunities to work remotely, but too often this isn't part of the culture. Glassdoor's recent report of Top Companies for Work-Life Balance ranked AOL and Yahoo! in the top 25. Some of the parent-friendly policies they embrace are flexible or alternative work arrangements and on-site childcare.

Just as digital is leading innovation in advertising, content and marketing, this industry has a tremendous opportunity to shape the future of corporate America. We only need to recognize the significance of this issue in retaining female leadership and collectively advocate for better conditions for working parents.

Talia Arnold is a digital marketing consultant.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet

"Family" image via Shutterstock.

The personality should have a connection to the brand

I get it -- Americans are hopelessly inadequate at English, and the whole I-before-E thing has them doing so many linguistic gymnastics with their tongue that the word "Geico" could easily be pronounced "Gecko." Although Geckos are cute, does that make Geico cute? I don't know, but I have an overwhelming desire to fry up that little green annoyance or serve him to a snake. In its defense, the company has tried ad campaign after ad campaign looking to supplant its little Gecko from cavemen to money motorcycles and "Everyone knows that." Its strategy could be the most brilliant marketing lesson available: You do not have to put everything with your brand on one spokesperson.

Why it worked for the brand: The Gecko is likable, memorable, and most importantly has you think of the brand name. The connection of the character to the brand is strong (if in name only). In addition, as a virtual spokesperson it has complete brand control of its image.

Why it fails now: More difficult to emotionally connect to an animated character, less aspirational than celebrity endorsement.

So please Gecko, get run over by a car, a motorcycle, a boat, or any other vehicle that Geico insures. We love you, but we're just tired of your English accent shenanigans.

Make sure your brand is not better than your spokesperson, or is it the other way around?

I know there are a lot of Kim Kardashian supporters out there. I just happen to not be one of them. What is she famous for again? Oh yeah, being the child of rich parents -- the next-generation Paris Hilton-replacement with curves. She is, however, a brilliant marketer of herself -- in the way Madonna once was, before she became English. Alas, I digress, which is truly difficult when mentioning Kim Kardashian. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Skechers. Huh? I am sure that if Kim had a choice, she wouldn't be caught dead in Skechers. No one would, except if you're in a Midwest trailer park sporting your new pair from the Salvation Army. You know, the place where all fad brands go to die. But there she is, shilling for them, their false health claims, and all.

I know Skechers does a lot of good in the world with its BOBS knockoff of TOMS. But then again, Kim is just a knockoff of Britney as its spokesperson. Wow, when you're holding up Britney Spears as a positive example of success, maybe the brands do deserve each other. Kim, save yourself, I may not love you, but you can do better than Skechers.

Why it worked for the brand: Kim Kardashian has universal sex appeal without any of the baggage of having any talent other than image promotion. And if that's your talent, being a shill for brands works because your brand gets noticed.

Why it fails now: Kim Kardashian completely outshines Skechers. When your spokesperson is viewed as better than your brand, it doesn't elevate your brand, it insults it.

Your endorser should be relevant to your current and future target market

I spent 10 years in Chicago. I actually watched Michael Jordan play basketball in his heyday, which seems like eons ago. So why does Hanes continue to trot him out? There are some things that get better with age, and celebrity spokespeople are not one of them, nor is underwear. So unless you want the only people who wear Hanes to be people over 50, you have to find someone a little more current. Like Mr. Whipple, Orville Redenbacher, the Maytag repairman, and a host of other celebrity spokespeople that have been called out to pasture, it's time for Michael to finally go to the big celebrity deathbed in the sky. If you haven't "Gotten your Hanes on me" by now, it's never going to happen. Maybe in another 30 years I'll use them to pull above my pants. For now, I'm sticking with something that doesn't make me feel like I just gave up caring what people think of me when I take off my pants.

Why it worked for the brand: Some brands love consistency, and sticking with a spokesperson for 25 years is admirable, if it wasn't so pathetic.

Why it fails now: You end up chasing an aging demographic and not the future of those who will wear your product.

Beware when the spokesperson becomes iconic -- you can't shift away from it

You may not actually know her name, but you do know her -- Flo: The Progressive Insurance, super smiley, quirky, annoying, condescending pitch woman. After 50 commercials she's the real life equivalent of the Gecko -- just with better Halloween costumes. How did this happen, America? How and why? I get it, she's everywoman -- that is, if everywoman was your know-it-all-friend you don't want to bring out with you but just shows up anyway. But isn't that the purpose of advertising, to just be in our face and remind us? Let's face it. She's just so annoying, and if you saw her walking down the street on a dark night, you just may run her over, if only to save us all the anguish of yet another rehash of the same shtick. I know, Progressive has tried to pivot away from Flo, but a couple years ago it just gave up and decided to embrace her full bore. It has served the brand well, made it likable -- and it's an insurance company. About as droll and lack-of-personality as you can get. So likable wins a lot of points.

Why it worked for the brand: She's approachable, and has become an icon for Progressive, and her signature hairdo outline is a modern Ché Guevara t-shirt for that "in-the-know crowd." OK, maybe we shouldn't kill Flo. Let's just arm her, and have her kill all of the other spokespeople on this list.

Why it fails now: You can't get away from her. Like the Geico Gecko or the Marlboro Man, the icon becomes the brand, so that as they become less relevant it is harder for your brand to pivot.

Don't just be big in Japan

I hear that Jennifer Aniston is big in Japan. That's good because everywhere else she's now irrelevant. "Friends" was a long, long time ago -- in a galaxy far, far away, about as far away as she'll stay from Angelina. I guess smartwater isn't so smart. But let's face it, it was never smart. Correction, it is smart. It gets people to buy water out of a bottle that we can get free from any tap. Jennifer, oh, how we miss thee being relevant. Honestly, what the heck is Jennifer Aniston doing without smartwater? Obviously, it is not making her one iota smarter. In her defense, that piece of crap product doesn't make anyone smarter. With so many companies vying to fill us up with the most abundance resource on earth, why would it stick with Jennifer other than inertia? Her smartwater social-strategy pregnancy video from years back is done. Now we don't care if she's pregnant or not.

However, if Taylor Swift was marketing smartwater, that would be a different story. She's a player, and you know, "a players gotta play, play, play, play, plaaaaay."

Why it worked for the brand: Jennifer was relevant once, at the time the company probably hired her as a spokesperson, and she has perfected that "just passed gas look" that somehow looks like someone is mysterious.

Why it fails now: Because it's Jennifer Aniston, who we only felt sorry for after getting dumped by Brad, and not someone who is in our modern zeitgeist.

If you're hanging onto their celebrity, do not use their celebrity name

It may seem completely counterintuitive. How could you ignore their name? Because their name is not important -- it is their image and what they represent. They are a meme. Their name is irrelevant the bigger they are. I have to end this piece with a brand that finally took the plunge and phased out Mr. Phaser himself -- William Shatner, The Negotiator. No one really negotiates for their prices on flights or hotels anymore on Priceline, a business model that is dying, and it's a shame. When you would score a great hotel or flight at a great price, everyone loved Priceline. Now it's just another travel booking site.

On Priceline, The Shatner was not himself, he was The Negotiator -- an almost perfect blend of cool that is part camp, part clueless, and part not-knowing-which.

William Shatner has been able to embody the spokesperson in only the way a relatively one-dimensional actor can. Star Trek what? He crosses over and continues to be relevantly irrelevant. In fact, its use of him is brilliant because it is not about him. It is not about Captain Kirk, or T.J. Hooker, or any of his acting roles. It's not about William Shatner. The brand has anthropomorphized (the word choice is correct because, let's face it, he is kind of wooden) him into another character entirely, and that is a lesson to celebrity hucksters. If you are hanging on their celebrity, do not use their celebrity name. If Jay-Z or Kanye West is sponsoring something, and they are acting as themselves, then guess what? No one will remember your product. They remember the celebrity.

You need to use their celebrity to fit them into another character. Then it is intrinsically tied to your brand. Otherwise the celebrity overpowers the brand. Get it?

Why it worked for the brand: It was an innovative campaign and a great way to communicate how Priceline was different than those other sites.

Why it fails now: Because Priceline has the allusion of being able to negotiate price, but now is no longer different.


A spokesperson can help make your brand more approachable, more human, and more worthy of love and connection. But also over time, if not actively managed, they can just become an easy out or crutch for the brand, replacing a good product message, or failing to discover what the true emotional drivers of people are for your brand with which they can connect. Spokespeople are a hack ad technique for lazy brands. There are some brilliant uses of them. Everyone on this list is (well, except Jennifer Aniston), and there are others, like Allstate, who have used them brilliantly, as well. However, most brands are poor imitations of brilliant usage. (Farmers Insurance, anyone?) Worse is that most of you cannot even remember, if you remember the spokesperson at all, what product they shill for. There are rules in this game, so follow mine and you won't end up attaching your brand to a spokesperson without at least thinking about it. Make sure you have a growth plan, and an exit plan, or you could be cleaning a celebrity stench off your brand for years.

Sean X is VP of Consumer Marketering at Skillz.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Cover story mashup image via Shutterstock.


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