What kinds of things do you like to do with your time?
What types of news are you most interested in?
How much do you spend online, and on what products?
Is allergy information more important to you than beach conditions when you check the weather?
These are the kinds of questions advertisers have been asking for a long, long time. Since the early days of the 20th century and the marriage of psychology and advertising, companies have been looking for ways to persuade the persuadable, and that has relied on a combination of trying to place messages in context relevant to the product or service being promoted at a time and in a way that find the potential consumer in the best state of mind for being spoken to about it.
But what we know about how or why people use media has never been very precise, so we've had to go by other indicators of what people think or like or do.
As it stands today, demographics serve as surrogates for more meaningful information about a particular audience. What behavioral targeting promises is a way to identify an audience based on not simply their statistical data points, but on their likes and dislikes as deduced from their actions.
Certainly, products endorsed by the American Association of Retired Persons can be targeted based on a 50-plus demographic, but what about something like, say, snowboards? There are kids 10 years old who want them and guys in their thirties who want them. These are demographics so divergent, I can't really target based on demographics. But perhaps these consumers share a similar state of mind: new, exciting, daring, on edge. Whether you are six or 60, if you are interested in my product, then I want to talk to you about it.
So "behavioral targeting" has become the mantra as of late. It's getting more play at conferences, in newsletters, in the trades. The upcoming Interactive Advertising World in September has a line item on its agenda specifically dedicated to the subject. iMediaConnection has a section of content dedicated exclusively to issues involving behavioral targeting and marketing.
Given the amount of time behavioral targeting and marketing has been available to the marketplace, it is now time to ask the question: is audience segmentation based on behavior meaningful?
At a conference last year, attendees in a survey indicated that it was contextual advertising and behavioral marketing that were among the most promising advancements for advertisers in the online space. That these two methods of targeting are often linked is no accident. Involvement of a user in a particular context can be indicative of a particular kind of behavior. Being able to deliver advertising based on context and behavior is and has been the promise of online advertising since the beginning. It comes as no surprise that improvements in this arena are held out as examples of being among the most promising trends for advertisers.
Behavioral-based targeting, as an idea, is not really something that is all that new. Some would say that it was the same as psychographic targeting. The fact of the matter is, however, that it has not been possible to buy media this way and actually assign an advertising message to a particular individual (or the media device they use) based on this kind of information.
Now, companies are providing technologies that are either developed organically, lifted from the leftover pieces of other technologies, or use other wholly formed technology that can be put behind the curtain, that make it possible for publishers to provide behavioral targeting to advertisers.
Real-world numbers show it works
Is it working, though? Are publishers or advertisers yielding anything from this form of segmentation?
According to some of the recent press, they are.
Douglas W. McCormick, iVillage's chairman and CEO was quoted this past May saying, "When we first made this technology available, we all intuitively thought it would work to make advertising schedules more impactful. But now it's a fact and this study proves it."
The study he is referring to is the one done by Dynamic Logic in conjunction with Deutsch for Snapple-a-Day, the recently launched meal replacement beverage from Snapple Beverage.
The technology used to segment the iVillage audience was Tacoda Systems' Audience Management System, which sifts through vast amounts of user behavior data and essentially "makes decisions" about what kinds of people make up that audience in order to best determine what kind of advertising to serve them.
Another provider of capabilities similar to Tacoda's is Revenue Science, and they, too were part of a study that was released just this past May featuring the benefits of using behaviorally driven audience segmentation.
The study was done through TM Advertising, the erstwhile Temerlin McClain, for its client, American Airlines. The objective of the campaign was to get in front of business travelers and remind them basically how sweet it is to fly with an airline that feeds you and doesn't have socialist seating arrangements, a la JetBlue.
According to the study, Revenue Science put behaviorally targeted ads on WSJ.com in front of 115 percent more business travelers who travel at least once a year versus those ads run on the Web against general run-of-site inventory. More frequent travelers were reached 145 percent more.
With the technology in place, Revenue Science identified WSJ.com readers who were visiting travel sections of the site like "Desktop Traveler" or "Takeoffs and Landings" as belonging to a travel-seeker segment and then served American Airlines ads regardless of the editorial context.
There are other media properties out there that are capable of offering something similar to behavioral audience segmentation. Yahoo! Consumer Direct, for instance, lets advertisers target audiences identified by cross-tabbing not only surfing behavior but also data from AC Nielsen that reveals a user's purchase pattern. NYTimes.com has the remains of Personify as the engine driving its behavioral targeting efforts.
And lest we forget desktop applications like WhenU or Claria that can use both context and content engagement behaviors to inform the patterns they see and result in ads served to particular audience segments.
So, although the evidence in favor of behavioral targeting and marketing has not made the transition from hill to mountain, it is building and it does indicate that behavior is a far superior indicator of belonging to a particular audience than one's membership to a demographic segment.
The only question remaining to be answered is: are publishers successfully yielding a premium for inventory behaviorally segmented that would otherwise ordinarily be blind ROS inventory?
Seems to be that some publishers are getting incrementally higher CPMs for behavioral inventory, as far as I can tell from some of the media I've been buying. But media buyers are notoriously suspicious of paying premiums for something they cannot see (if I'm buying behaviorally segmented inventory targeted to women 25 -54 who like crafts, I'm not likely to ever see my ad).
What advertisers really want
It is behavior that advertisers really seek to address, not an age or gender. It seems stupid that what we've been doing in advertising for decades is to take a state of mind or a type of behavior, translate that into demographics, and then use those demographics to translate back into a means of reaching people in a particular state of mind or with a specific type of behavior.
Given the new technologies emerging for use in conducting online advertising, marketers won't have to any more.
Manage your expectations
Say you're sold on sponsoring a blogger and you're ready to reach out and touch a highly targeted audience. What should you realistically expect as a return on your investment?
"Don't expect huge numbers," says Campbell. "It's not about reaching huge numbers. It's about reaching the right target audience in a way where it sticks."
"Over and above anything else, I would say word of mouth," says Rebecca Mecomber, who has a handful of niche blogs, including New York Traveler.net. "For an advertiser looking to promote his product, I think word of mouth is number one."
"You get kind of a boost from being associated with that blogger," states Senior VP and Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, Steve Rubel, a blogger himself on The Steve Rubel Lifestream, which doesn't accept any advertising or publish sponsored posts, in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. Mighty Media's Mason refers to this boost as "brand love," which results from being affiliated with a blogger with a loyal following. She argues that her readership may not know or particularly care about the advertiser, "but they do know me, and they do care about me, and in doing this [sponsorship] with me, I'm forging a bond with the advertiser that sort of vicariously extends to my readers."
"In the best of cases, they walk away with new, dedicated consumers," says Federated Media's DiPietro on what brands get for their sponsorship. "At the very least, consumers who, if they had a negative view of the brand, now have a neutral view of the brand. If they had a neutral view of the brand, they now have a very positive view of the brand because, in the best of circumstances, that brand is now enabling that conversation."
IZEA's Murphy believes that a brand should set its own expectations by asking what it realistically hopes to get out of the relationship: Click-throughs? Buzz? Goodwill? "Just sponsoring a blogger to sponsor a blogger doesn't really make much sense," he elaborates, likening the relationship between a brand and a blogger to that of a corporate sponsor and an athlete.
So should you expect a blogger to do for your brand what Tiger Woods does for Nike or Gatorade? That's asking a lot, but unless you follow the next suggestion, chances are you won't see any ROI whatsoever.
Partnering with a blogger that's a good fit with your brand is crucial to a successful outcome. The wrong demographic or tone could not only not help, it could actually harm your brand by associating it with a blogger, readership, or slant that doesn't represent what you've worked so hard to stand for.
"Finding the right target demographic is one of the biggest things," says Colburn. He explains that he wouldn't accept a sponsored assignment from a brand that doesn't fit with, or help, his readership. "At the same time," he adds, "it doesn't help the sponsor, either, because they're not getting their target demographic."
Small-business blogger Campbell concurs. "The blogger's audience needs to line up pretty closely with the sponsor or advertiser," she says, adding that, for her, "believing in the product is very, very important," especially as it pertains to making a small-business owner's life easier.
"Seek out bloggers who already seem to be producing content around the message you want to get out," advises Mighty Media's Mason. "If you want some sort of contact with their readership, the more closely your product better match, because it is possible to antagonize a readership." Mason, an ex-copywriter, also believes that a blogger's tone should be considered when considering sponsorship: "It's important, as with any copywriter you would hire, that you understand that their tone matches the tone you're looking for."
DiPietro believes that, for a blog to be worth sponsoring, it "has to have a very large and engaged audience." Engagement can be determined by checking how active the commenting is, both on the blog itself and in the blogosphere, as well as the quality of the comments.
Finally, advises Rubel, "Look for somebody who has a track record, who has done these types of programs before successfully and has tremendous ethics." Of course, that assumes that ethics are equally important to the brand looking to sponsor the conversation, which leads nicely into the next recommendation.
"The biggest potential mistake that a brand could make is not forcing disclosure," says Murphy of the sponsored-conversation dynamic. He cautions that readers will ultimately find out about any monetary compensation, and any lack of transparency can backfire on a brand or blogger, which is why IZEA requires its bloggers to identify sponsored posts done through them with a badge. "We also encourage them to do so in the text or whatever way they feel comfortable," Murphy adds.
"Part of Federated Media's DNA is that everything we do, and encourage our sites to do, is to be transparent," insists DiPietro. Along with being transparent, he stresses that any sponsorship campaigns brokered through FM must also be authentic and "no matter what the campaign is, it has to add value to the media experience."
Colburn makes the point that, to not disclose that a post is sponsored, is not only unethical but also adversely affects his brand. "In this business, my name is my brand, and I have to protect my brand," he states emphatically. "The way I do that is by doing things as ethically as I can -- and that means disclosure."
But is there a risk that full disclosure might turn readers off and keep them from reading sponsored posts? Not according to Mason, who believes that, even though she's upfront with her readers when she's paid for a post, most of her readership will still read the post because they know her tastes and know there's probably something in it they'll find interesting -- especially given that she only accepts campaigns she feels are informative for her readers and would be something they might otherwise read if it weren't sponsored.
The bottom line: Sponsored or not, content has to be informative, interesting, and creative. And creativity doesn't just apply to the post -- extending it into the sponsorship arrangement itself can be instrumental in achieving a win-win-win (let's not forget the readers) situation.
Be creative with sponsorships
"The key thing for bloggers is to be more creative in how you approach things," says Mason, who approached Federated Media to help find her an advertiser to sponsor some of the things she hopes to do before she dies, which are listed on her blog's home page. Federated Media ran with her request, and now 10 items on Mason's list -- including a trip to Greece -- will be financed by Intel, which saw sponsoring part of her "bucket list" as a good way to get exposure, and win favor, with her readership. In this particular case, Mason (through Federated Media) sought out the brand, but these types of outside-the-box sponsorships are there for the taking by any brand looking to do something a little different. And since sponsoring bloggers is a relatively new concept, brands -- as well as bloggers, as in Mason's case -- are free to define how they propose to do it.
"Getting a blogger to guest blog for you on your site is another idea," says Rubel. He believes it's a good way for a brand to get content from a reputable blogger without watering down the blogger's main blog. And because it appears on a corporate website or micro-site, it's very transparent that there's a financial relationship between the blogger and the brand. Rubel is also a fan of bloggers linking to sponsored posts on advertiser websites from their blogs rather than publishing the posts on their own sites.
"It's not going to be a blanket proposal of what's our sponsored-post strategy in general for the blogosphere." says Dornfest on brands sponsoring bloggers. "It's going to have to be blog by blog, just in the same way freelance writers pitch magazines, individually pitching each magazine with something that's perfectly tailored for that magazine."
Regardless of the type of sponsorship, once it's in place comes what just may be the hardest part for brands used to controlling their messaging...
Let your blogger(s) blog!
If you've gone to all the trouble to find the right bloggers, sponsor them, and manage your expectations, the quickest way to sabotage your efforts is to not let your bloggers do their thing -- the reason you aligned your brand with them in the first place.
"Always allow the blogger to be creative and somewhat independent," says New York Traveler's Mecomber. "Bloggers are, by nature, extremely independent; blogs are opinion pieces, when it comes right down to it." So, she insists, let them express their opinions -- good, bad, or indifferent.
Murphy believes that negative feedback, so long as it's honest, won't necessarily adversely affect an advertiser, because it adds legitimacy to a post. "People can talk about what they like, and people can talk about what they don't like, and I think that's what makes the conversation real and authentic." He cautions bloggers that "you can't just be, like, 'this is the greatest thing that's ever happened,' because the readers just don't buy off on that." Out of the millions of sponsored posts bloggers have done through IZEA, Murphy estimates that only around 30 of them have been what he would consider negative.
How much control a brand has over a blogger's content depends on the arrangement between the blogger, the brand, and any parties brokering the deal. But little to none seems to be the right recipe for the more successful collaborations, according to my experts.
"There is never any control over the editorial content by a brand," says DiPietro of sponsorships arranged through Federated Media. "Editorial integrity is everything. If you lose your audience's trust in your content and in your credibility, you really are losing everything, because the audience itself, that engagement that happens on these blogs, is what makes it so valuable to the brand advertiser."
"If there's something I don't like about a product, I'm not being paid to lie about it," says Colburn. "I tell it like it is -- good points and bad points." He admits that he sometimes gets notes from sponsors, but typically it's asking him to mention something he may not have addressed, never to change anything he wrote. "I've never heard anyone say, 'can you say this product is the best out there or tell people this is a really great product?' No one's even said, 'can you give it a good review?'"
"The best and most savvy role that a brand can play is to sponsor the conversation but let the content of the conversation go where it will," advises Dornfest. She likens sponsoring a blogger to throwing a party: Rent the venue and provide the amenities, but then step back and let the guests have a great time. "How that great time ends up looking and sounding may not be what they expect," she says, adding that the rewards can still be great -- specifically, what brands learn from their audience and any goodwill and/or legitimacy that result from opening up the conversation and letting it happen organically.
"The conversation is already happening," Dornfest offers as parting advice. "The question is whether or not the brands want to get involved in those conversations."
If your brand does, then sponsoring a blogger as your voice is a good way to get in on them. Just don't expect it to be a ventriloquist/dummy relationship, because savvy audiences will see right through the act.
Sean Egen is a freelance writer.
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Coca-Cola's recent ad campaign, "Come Together," is the brand's attempt to appear health-conscious, highlighting diet soda and calorie labels on cans to encourage reasonable portions. The campaign appears to be purely a political move, as Coke continues to come under increasing scrutiny for its part in America's obesity problem.
This ad can also be seen as response to Alex Bogusky's "The Real Bears," an ad he did for the Center for Science in the Public Interest that depicted the horrendous health consequences on a family of soda-guzzling polar bears. Some call Bogusky himself hypocritical with his recent shift from brand advocate to consumer advocate -- others just call him awesome. Bogusky responded to Coke's recent move with this tweet:
According to Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, "They're trying to stem the tide of criticism by taking a page out of crisis control 101, which is to pretend like they're concerned about the issue. If they were serious, they would stop advertising full-calorie drinks, charge less for lower calorie options, and stop fighting the soda tax. They're just running feel-good ads aimed at neutralizing criticism."
Back in 2011, Lowe's decided to stop advertising on a TV show called "All-American Muslim" after a conservative Christian group complained, calling the show "propaganda" that "hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values." The brand faced immediate backlash upon the ad withdrawal, with critics calling the move an act of bigotry and -- worse -- an act of agreement with a hate group. More likely? Lowe's panicked.
Some argue that Lowe's has every right to spend its advertising dollars where it chooses, and perhaps those people are right. But this knee-jerk reaction didn't bode well for the Lowe's brand image. Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb touted the company's "long-standing commitment" to diversity and pulled the ads only after the show became "a lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives."
Suddenly there were many complaints from a variety of perspectives, Lowe's? Nice try. Thanks for playing.
This campaign for Clorox Green Works is an attempt to make green products more approachable by mocking green freaks, but many have found the campaign just plain insulting.
"Green seems to have become a status symbol," Green Works brand manager Shekinah Eliassen said. "It's like you have to be 100 percent committed to being green or not green at all -- and that's where a lot of people have been turned off by it."
While we can admire Clorox's attempts to dispel myths about what it means to be green, or to make being green more mainstream, this particular tactic just painted the brand as hypocritical. These dimwitted green housewives are such a turn-off that viewers don't even want to see the deeper message. It's just not wise to make fun of environmentally conscious consumers when you are trying to sell a product on its green appeal.
Burberry is a multinational brand whose global marketing campaign revolves around being a "luxury brand" with a "distinctive British" appeal. Yet its claim to high quality clothing "Made in Britain" is a total sham. Only two Burberry factories remain open in Britain, for the sole purpose of tightly clutching its decaying image of British-made luxury. All other manufacturing has long been moved to China.
In her article for The Guardian, Carole Cadwalladr wrote, "The £4 polo shirts [made in China]? They're now retailing on Burberry's website for £150. That 'Made in Britain' appeal? It commands a premium of £146 a pop accrued from the fact that Burberry kept two British factories open."
"It's very sad that an event that celebrates the very best of athletic achievements should be sponsored by companies contributing to the obesity problem and unhealthy habits," said Terence Stephenson, a spokesman for a U.K. doctor's group, referring to Olympic sponsors McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and Heineken. This type of outrage over inappropriate Olympics sponsors is nothing new, but McDonald's was especially hurt last year when it dropped to the very bottom of a brand reputation tracker monitoring Twitter sentiment toward the 25 official sponsors of the London Games.
The mayor of London had this to say about the negative comments: "It's classic liberal hysteria about very nutritious, delicious, food -- extremely good for you I'm told -- not that I eat a lot of it myself," he said. "Apparently this stuff is absolutely bursting with nutrients." His comments were, of course, just fuel to the fire on social media, which got even worse when comedian Frankie Boyle tweeted: "Don't know how much sponsorship McDonald's paid for the Olympic mayor to be a f***ing clown."
Lord Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee, defended Olympics sponsorships by fast food and soft drinks companies. He argued that the huge investment by brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's is essential to the success of the event.
Parent company Unilever came under intense social media fire in 2007 for the apparent contradiction found in Dove and Axe advertisements. Dove's campaign for "Real Beauty" is focused on self esteem and realistic body images for women, while Axe is famous for ads with half-naked, sex-crazed women. The most famous spoof was called "Talk to your daughter before Unilever does," which has now been removed from YouTube.
Vaseline, another a sub-brand of Unilever, more recently launched a Facebook app in India that allowed users to whiten their profile pictures. The app was designed to promote Vaseline's skin-lightening creams, which are increasing in popularity in India. Some claim Unilever's hypocrisy in cases like these is overblown, and that Unilever is just a parent company not responsible for the messaging of all of its separate sub-brands. But with critics increasingly leveraging social media and online conversations to put parent companies in the spotlight, Unilever won't be able to evade criticism with this excuse much longer.
Papa John's CEO John Schnatter gained attention last fall after complaining that the Affordable Healthcare Act would result in a 10- to 14-cent cost increase per pizza and would possibly compel the company to reduce employees' hours. "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart pointed out that the chain has been known to give away 2 million pizzas as part of a promotion during football season. Papa John's did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Countless internet memes like this one began to spread like wildfire:
A group that appears to be unaffiliated with Papa John's organized a Papa John's Appreciation Day on Facebook, so the brand is not without its supporters. Still, Schnatter's comments have now made him famous on social media as a hypocrite and a whiner.
After L'Oréal blew the whistle on rival brand Dior, the Advertising Standards Authority banned this mascara ad featuring Natalie Portman, on account of her eyelashes being airbrushed to artificial perfection.
L'Oréal is a frequent troublemaker with the ASA, systematically bending the truth in cases such as Cheryl Cole's false locks and Beyoncé's "latte" skin tint -- not to mention several ASA bans over the last few years on ads featuring Rachel Weisz, Christy Turlington, Julia Roberts, and Penelope Cruz.
But tattletale L'Oréal got its way this time, even though these types of complaints typically come from consumers, not brands. In this cosmetics catfight, neither party is innocent. In fact, the cosmetics industry banks on these kinds of tactics. So pipe down, L'Oréal. You're no hero.
For the film "The Lorax," based on the Dr. Seuss story, Universal forged nearly 70 different advertising partnerships to promote the film, ranging from Whole Foods to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But as if selling out this children's story of a creature who speaks up for trees and nature wasn't enough, the company also sold it out to an SUV.
The Mazda CX-5, which is not a hybrid but gets 35 miles per gallon on the highway, is apparently the only car to receive the "Truffula Tree Seal of Approval," according to the commercial. This hypocritical partnership caused an uproar from bloggers, YouTube commenters, online petitioners, and more.
Don Romano, Mazda's chief marketing officer for North America, said that the ad's intention is to challenge people's perceptions of what environmentally friendly cars can be. He emphasized that it is merely a first step, which seems to signal a new trend in low-effort (and low-impact) environmentalism similar to what we saw with Clorox's ad. "If people think that everything's going to change overnight, that's just naive," Romano said. "It's not going to happen that way. It's going to happen through incremental changes and constant improvement. I think Dr. Seuss would be quite proud of that progress and the fact that we're taking that step."
Here's an advertisement that provides a whole new way of looking at hypocritical marketing. In 2011, Patagonia placed a full-page ad in the The New York Times on Black Friday that told readers not to buy its products. The company then reiterated its message online on Cyber Monday by asking consumers to pledge to "reduce our environmental footprint."
Sure, it's a stunt. Patagonia is still in the business of selling clothes. The brand also highlights the sustainable, long-lasting quality of its products. But this startling ad sends a message that is much more effective than that of Clorox or Mazda. With brutal honesty, the company explains that the production of the jacket pictured is decidedly harmful to the environment.
The ad reads, "There is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don't buy what you don't need. Think twice before you buy anything...Reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace." Patagonia's campaign is all about the long-term. It's all about building an image of a brand that consumers can trust. And that's a strategy a lot of brands can stand to learn from. Honesty breeds loyalty.
Chloe Della Costa is an editor at iMedia Connection.
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Travel, tourism, hospitality
LGBT adults spend more on leisure, travel, restaurants, and related products and services, with 23 percent higher median household income compared to straight households and higher discretionary incomes. So it's no surprise that the travel industry has historically taken a more inclusive approach. Hotels, cruise lines, airlines, and booking engines have all directly engaged LGBT audiences to varying degrees for many years. Orbitz, for example, has a perfect Corporate Equality Index Score from the Human Rights Campaign and two GLAAD media awards. The travel site filters hotel reviews by LGBT travelers, provides tips and advice on leading gay travel destinations around the world, and features gay-friendly properties in its booking engine. Another example -- Airbnb advertises directly on the geo-location-based app Grindr, which reaches more than 5 million gay and bi-sexual males in 192 countries. In fact, with 65 percent of LGBT Millennials booking travel via mobile, this channel creates ever-increasing opportunities for travel marketers, in particular, to build relationships with their LGBT customers.
Kimpton: "Life is Suite"
In the hospitality sector, both boutique and mainstream hotel brands have built loyal followings with an inclusive approach that speaks to LGBT audiences both directly and indirectly. Kimpton hotels, for example, which was recently acquired by Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), is widely known for its stylish properties, and surprise and delight loyalty program, Karma Rewards. It has been actively marketing to the LGBT community for years, and like Orbitz, Kimpton has a 100 percent rating from the HRC Corporate Equality Index. It's also been recognized by Out Traveler as Best Hotel Chain (2013), maintains a dedicated section of its website for LGBT guests, and even sponsors promotions targeting same-sex couples and newlyweds.
Marriott's recent #Lovetravels social campaign organically integrates diverse lifestyles in a wider context that "illustrate how people live their individual truths and bring their passions with them when they travel." The campaign, which ended in November 2014, featured a microsite, a shareable portrait gallery, and curated video content. It, too, reflects a wider trend among marketers that take LGBT people out of the "gayborhood" and into the mainstream featuring singles, couples, and families from different walks of life sharing their passion for travel.
Consumer packaged goods brands (CPGs)
Consumer packaged goods brands are not generally the first ones that come to mind when thinking about LGBT audiences. But with same-sex partnered households spending $2,045 more per year on packaged goods and making 16 percent more shopping trips than the average U.S. household, brands including Cheerios and Honey Maid have recently featured real life modern families in their marketing campaigns -- and not without controversy.
In Canada, General Mills' "Cheerios Effect" campaign from October 2014 included a dozen videos on the internet and TV, ranging from 15-second to three-minute mini-documentaries that linked the cereal brand with "true stories of human connection." The Cheerios campaign included two gay dads and their adoptive daughter and was designed to encourage social pickup. Marketing Mag reports that "the 'Cheerios Effect' is the colloquial name some have given to the phenomenon that anyone who's eaten a bowl of the cereal knows: when two Cheerios float in milk, they tend to attract one another thanks to surface tension." The approach has generated results. A similar campaign for Lucky Charms reportedly lifted category share by 0.5 percent during Gay Pride, which was "amazing for a 50-year-old brand."
Honey Maid: "This is Wholesome"
Mondelez International, meanwhile, unapologetically defended its recent "This is Wholesome" spot for Honey Maid graham crackers from backlash for its depiction of families of all types -- including gay ones, and the "changing American family dynamic." Haters are gonna hate, and anti-gay groups predictably took issue with the campaign, bombarding the brand with negative comments on social media. Not only did Honey Maid shake it off, but it turned the 10:1 positive to negative sentiments into a follow up campaign showing how the love-mail conquered hate-mail.
Insurance companies and banks, with their conservative reputations, might also seem like unlikely champions of LGBT rights, but Allstate, Prudential, Wells Fargo, and others are actively engaging the community. Prudential's 2012/2013 study on LGBT financial experience reported that a majority of LGBTs perceive their financial planning needs to be different from those of the general population and feel underserved by financial services companies. Core concerns among LGBT people include legislation that negatively affects LGBT financial rights, tax treatment of same-sex couples, retirement, and same sex survivor benefits.
Allstate: "Safe In My Hands"
In June 2014, Allstate launched "Safe In My Hands," a fully integrated campaign that spoke directly to the insecurity many LGBTs feel. The campaign included an animated ad that played on the well-known "Good Hands" slogan with a score by singer-songwriter Eli Lieb, free song downloads, nationwide events at Gay Pride events.
The campaign included a photo sharing gallery (#OutHoldingHands), encouraging real LGBT people to tag photos on Twitter or Instagram, showing affection in public. In addition, Allstate's dedicated web portal connects to agents and provides LGBT-specific tips regarding same-sex marriage/domestic partnerships, home and renters insurance, car insurance, life insurance, and retirement.
Relationship building with LGBT consumers is clearly evolving from hyper targeting and niche channels to a wider, more inclusive approach that reflects shifts in the broader society at large and makes financial sense for brands in these industries highlighted here, and many others.
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"Rainbow flag on small visiting card" image via Shuttertock.
While mobile games are exceedingly popular, few ever get much of a marketing push, let alone a Super Bowl spot. But after building a devoted fan base of nearly 10 million players for the role-playing game "Heroes Charge," uCool decided to take a gamble on a 15-second spot during the big game. Of course, at 15 seconds, the ad isn't much more than some exciting shots from the game, but as uCool's head of marketing Tony Cerrato explained, the Super Bowl spot is really about leveraging the existing fan base to take the mobile game to the next level.
"Players seem to love our game," Cerrato told AdWeek. "We're getting good responses from that, and we figured that by going on to a bigger venue like the Super Bowl, it should be successful."
Sony PS4 -- "First to Greatness"
If you play console games from time to time, your gaming experience probably doesn't extend much beyond the time spent playing solo or with your friends. But if you're a hardcore gamer, YouTube is a treasure trove of game videos, where the top players showcase their greatest gaming moments. It was precisely that phenomenon that Sony wanted to tap into with its "First to Greatness" campaign for the PS4. To do that, Sony invited players to upload footage via the console of their best gaming "firsts," giving the campaign a dose of user-generated content with a gaming twist.
Sony PS4 -- "For The Players 1995"
With a relatively limited number of consoles and a relatively long period between new releases, it's only natural that Sony would launch multiple campaigns to promote the release of its new PS4. But what makes "For The Players 1995" stand out from the promotional pack is that it speaks to the way games and gaming consoles have been a part of our lives for more than two decades. What makes it even better is that the seamless cinematography draws on actual responses to Sony's Playstation Memories hashtag. The result is nostalgic and hypnotic all at once. And for anyone who ever owned any of these systems, the video is certainly reason enough to consider buying that new PS4, even if it doesn't allow you to play your old games.
Mashable called "Madden Season" either the best or worst ad they'd ever seen. But regardless of what you think of it, the 3-minute spot for EA's popular NFL franchise is hard to ignore, and that's the real point. Rather than focusing on the game play, EA cast Kevin Hart and Dave Franco in an absurdly epic music video about the comically extreme nature of "Madden" fandom. For those who don't play sports video games, the ad probably comes off as weird, but the creative choice to shift the focus away from the game's features was actually a smart move, because while each new installment of the game has changes and improvements, the overall product remains more or less the same. Given that reality, EA was wise to tap into the larger cultural impact of the title, rather than trying to sell the faithful on why this year's game was better than all previous versions.
File it under clever. Lacking the legal right to advertise Destiny (an incredibly popular shooter set in a post-apocalyptic future) for its new Xbox One console, Microsoft played a funny little trick, running ads in social channels to promote a fictional fragrance that just happened to have the same name as the video game. The ads led gamers to a website, which in turn invited them to check with retailers about Xbox One offers.
While it may seem to some that Microsoft went to great lengths to needle its competitor, the strategy is actually about solving a real problem. Typically, most titles are available on all platforms. But whenever new consoles come out every few years, manufacturers like Sony and Microsoft often lock up a couple of highly anticipated games in an attempt to sway gamers toward their platform. In this case, Microsoft had the right to sell Destiny in a bundle, but they didn't have the right to advertise that fact. In retrospect, it may have been better for Microsoft to address this problem during negotiations with the game's publisher, but hats off to the Xbox marketing team for working with both hands tied behind their back.
What about women?
While these are just some of the best video game ads out there, you may have noticed a troubling commonality -- the ads listed here are for games that skew heavily male. As I mentioned at the start of this article, nearly half of all gamers are women. But while there's certainly equality in the industry's customer base, far less attention, in terms of marketing dollars, is paid to female gamers. In part, this may be due to the fact that women are more likely to play casual games, which are often free and therefore have small or nonexistent marketing budgets. But even popular console titles like "Just Dance," which skews heavily female, tend to have rather ho-hum television spots.
Some people might say that marketing merely reflects the way gamers currently spend money on their favorite titles, but given the industry's larger and ongoing issue with misogyny, there's a larger responsibility here. Simply put: the content contained in the games as well as the marketing created to promote those titles exists in a cultural spectrum that typically either ignores (think "Call of Duty" or "Madden") or objectives (think "Grand Theft Auto") women. That's not only wrong, it's stupid. Women are half the market, and while some titles will always skew toward one gender or the other, video game publishers should be looking for ways to expand -- rather than narrow -- their revenue stream. Hopefully, the next time we look at video game marketing there will be an abundance of female-focused ads to choose from.
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
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