Think product placement on a television series and the first image that comes to mind is an innocuous insertion into the daily routine of a show -- characters in a restaurant ordering a specific brand of diet cola with their meal, or brushing their teeth with the toothpaste's logo clearly visible.
That was then, but this is now. Last month, Procter & Gamble and NBC-TV's "The Apprentice" took the bounds of product placement to a new level, using the smash hit series to ask show contestants to devise a marketing campaign for Crest Whitening Expressions, a new brand of Crest toothpaste. The episode, which aired Sept. 23, was followed with a commercial, in which viewers were asked go to Crest.com and explain their ideas for completing the contest.
The winner will receive a trip to the final Apprentice show and enjoy a complimentary stay at a Trump hotel -- a hotel not coincidentally bearing the name of the tycoon who is front and center on "The Apprentice."
"What makes this (campaign) unique is that it is the first time in television history that a product has been launched on reality TV," says Ken Zinn, iMarketing manager for Crest and Scope.
In addition to Crest.com, online contestants had the option of going to any of several Web sites, where paid links were posted to entry forms. When clicked, the links led to a Web server hosted by New York-based interactive promotion agency ePrize, the company that hosted and developed the interactive promotion element of the campaign.
According to Zinn, out of a cumulative 20 million page views, some 85,000 entries were received. Of those 85,000 entries, some 35,000 contained either general or specific marketing suggestions.
"The online component allowed the television watcher to go from passive to active involvement," says Josh Linkler, ePrize CEO. "Media consumption is shifting, and in this demographic that the show appeals to, they are spending a lot more time online. By taking this contest online, it allows Crest to establish a one-to-one relationship with their customers."
Online placements were coordinated by Response Media of Atlanta. The placements mainly consisted of skyscrapers and banners, and were made on several Web sites. The variety of chosen online venues is due to the fact, according to Zinn, that "consumers and market segments keep getting fragmented and more elusive all the time."
So what did this extensive campaign bring to Crest? Judging by pre-orders for Crest Whitening Expressions, key retailers were energized by the episode product placement and the online component. Procter & Gamble says that although complete sales results are not available, there was a significant increase in retail display orders prior to the Crest/Apprentice episode. The company projects that this increased merchandising demand will result in a volume forecast increase to the entire line of Crest Whitening Expressions flavors.
"It's certainly ingenious, exploiting Web technology as thoroughly as possible to draw viewers into the whole project of selling Crest, not just using it," says Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies at New York University.
IP-based reputation systems have become popular for fighting spam at ISPs. Think of reputation systems as a credit score for your IP. In this case, instead of using the score to qualify you for a loan, the ISP is looking at your score to see if they should accept your email.
Reputation systems are unique and internal to each ISP that uses them, which includes the top players: Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Gmail, et cetera. With the exception of Microsoft, ISPs guard their reputation systems, so unless you are blocked outright, it's not easy to determine how a specific ISP sees your reputation. A low reputation score may cause your messages to be throttled, filtered or blocked outright.
Microsoft SNDS reputation data. Green results are excellent, green/yellow is average, and yellow/red results indicate poor reputation.
One of the biggest factors that affect an IP's reputation is the spam complaint rate. Nearly every ISP and webmail provider has a "report spam" button built into its user interface. When readers hit those spam buttons, the ISP counts that as a spam complaint and keeps track of how many complaints are generated from messages coming out of each IP. If complaints exceed a certain threshold, which can sometimes be as low as 0.01 percent, the reputation score for that IP is lowered.
Keep your score high
It's crucial to set up feedback loops with all the ISPs that offer them (more on this in a bit) so that you are aware of how readers are reacting to your messages.
The second major factor of IP reputation is the ratio of invalid address attempts to the number of valid mailboxes reached. An IP attempting to send mail to non-existent addresses and generating tons of bounces looks very much like a dictionary attack (when a hacker systematically tests all possible passwords) and has a very high chance of running into temporary or permanent blocks.
To combat bounce spikes, pay attention to list hygiene. Annual list turnover has been quoted at as much as 30 percent, which means that after a year, a third of your email addresses will be invalid. Regular mailings, at least monthly, help prevent bounce spikes that may occur if a mailing list is used infrequently.
Correctly interpreting the bounces you receive is paramount to ensuring that you're not mailing to deadwood. Bounces can be categorized as soft, indicating a temporary problem (mailbox full), or hard, indicating a permanent failure (invalid user). Make sure that your bounce processing system can distinguish the two and remove the hard bounces from your mailing list.
It has undeniably been a great year for Twitter. But it's been an even better year for Facebook. From April to July, Twitter grew by 4.2 million users in the U.S. During that same period, Facebook grew by more than 20 million users. Time spent on Facebook.com exceeds Twitter.com by a factor of about 3,000. But it's Facebook's positioning beyond Twitter replication that deserves the most attention.
With Facebook Connect, Facebook is moving away from being a site and toward becoming a platform on which much of the web will run. The number of sites currently using Facebook Connect in some form is astounding.
With Facebook's expanding domain in mind, some of its other efforts take on new significance. Facebook is playing with the concept of micro-payments. It has "Pay with Facebook" services, though they are currently limited to a handful of items that can be purchased using a credit card tied to the account. It's likely that Pay with Facebook will roll out as a payment platform to sites using Facebook Connect. Facebook is also planning a roll-out of Facebook credits, currency equivalent to a mere penny, which will be leveraged in social bookmarking and sharing.
Despite Facebook's smart plays that threaten some of Google's territory, the company has continued to innovate in areas that will make it an essential feature of our lives for many years to come. Techies have heard of many of their new products, but most marketers, and certainly the general public, are not yet aware of all the goodies coming out of beta from the search behemoth.
As a Google spokesperson told us, "The web is better when it is social, and people's experiences on the web become richer and more useful when social functionality is integrated in more places. We're always looking for ways to help people connect with each other and work together more efficiently in our own products and across the web." Translation: There's money to be made in connecting social behaviors to search, and Google's going to be there every step of the way.
Here are three of Google's latest projects:
- Google Wave. The first open source, real-time chat platform. It's part email, part IM, part collaboration tool, part search engine (it's Google after all!) that all happens in your browser in real time.
- Google Friend Connect. You've likely heard how important it is to add social elements to your website. But other than a link to Facebook and Twitter accounts, most of us can't spend the time or money to build a more comprehensive social component on our sites -- yet. However, Friend Connect lets sites add a "dash of social" just by copying a few bits of code. It's plug-and-play social.
- Google Latitude. The hope of location-based technology is that it will enable us to locate our friends' locations (when they allow this) and make the world a little smaller. You'll know when your friend is in the area and can meet for a coffee. For marketers, identifying location is key to delivering targeted messages in the right place and right time to the right customer. Google Latitude could be the gel location-based social has been waiting for.
We all know that Amazon is the biggest kid on the block when it comes to ecommerce solutions. And Amazon has been at the forefront of utilizing social behaviors to propel its commerce engine from the beginning. It made its first foray into social through its product ratings feature, and now users can share their own product images, see who viewed the product and later purchased it, submit a manual, tag, help others find similar products, peruse communities' lists of similar products, and use the ever-popular tell-a-friend component. New video reviews, podcasts, and other types of media content are appearing on the site everyday to help move product and leverage community behavior.
This all serves as a backdrop to the larger Amazon machine at play. Its Amazon "Web Services Solutions" are quickly becoming the white-label standard for large and small businesses. Quietly, Amazon has mastered cloud-based solutions, from computing capacity tools (Amazon EC2) to storage solutions (Amazon S3), its crowdsourcing play (Mechanical Turk), and the more-well-known fulfillment solutions (Amazon FWS). Take a look at the full breakdown here.
From an investment perspective, Amazon has been actively making some strategic purchases that show the company is paying close attention to trends in consumer behavior. Some of these include the acquisition of SnapTell, a company that makes mobile image recognition marketing applications and technology. Image recognition will change the way consumers behave in store and will most definitely affect the path to purchase.
Another positive sign was the recent purchase of Zappos, a social media darling of the retail space. Zappos is well known for leveraging modern employee management techniques with social media constructs that drive revenue. With the big guns of Amazon behind it, Zappos can certainly own the online shoe business.
Earlier this summer the news spread that Xbox was bringing Twitter and Facebook to the gaming and media console. Shortly thereafter, Netflix subscribers noticed an update that allowed them to watch movies in "party" mode -- that is, you can now have Steven Seagal nights with your friends all over the world, each from your own living room, represented by your avatar and communicating through a microphone. As Ad Age wrote, "By incorporating these social networking tools into their gaming device, Microsoft is uniting a passionate community that comprises hundreds of millions of people and, in large part, revolves around its brand. Just think about all the possibilities this creates." We agree. Microsoft may yet have its say in making our living rooms the social space of the future.
And what about a dark horse? We've named the big dogs, and we expect it will be their time for awhile, especially given a tough economic environment for startups. But there is a potential, smaller heir to the Twitter throne: the location-based mobile networking service Foursquare.
Forget figuring out something brilliant to say via Twitter; now you can just "check in" at locations across your city to notify your friends where you are, get free coffee or beer, and earn virtual badges of honor. Foursquare is one of several social mobile location-based services (Brightkite and Booyah Society are a couple of others). But with a fresh injection of cash, a growing number of cities and users, an emerging business model, and its clever rewards system, we think Foursquare could be the next social platform we're addicted to (and are convincing our moms to use).
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Lay's potato chips recently made a splash in the world of crowdsourcing when it offered chip eaters a chance to create the newest Lay's flavor with the "Do Us A Flavor" campaign.
Consumers were asked by the brand to submit a flavor they would like to see Lay's create and, in turn, Lay's would reward the winning flavor creator either $1 million or 1 percent of the flavor's first year sales, whichever finished higher. The campaign succeeded beyond all expectation, with more than 3.8 million user submissions and unique flavor ideas like Cajun Squirrel and Chili and Chocolate. In the end, three finalists were chosen and one ultimate flavor was left standing with Cheesy Garlic Bread, beating its two contenders, Sriracha and Chicken & Waffles. This type of marketing is not only a great way to truly understand your consumers, but also you can expect a high percent of the 3.8 million participants to be picking up at least a bag or two of their selected flavor.
The Mountain Dew "Dewmocracy" campaign in 2009 also put flavor direction in the hands of consumers. To start the campaign, 50 diehard Mountain Dew drinkers tested seven experimental flavors and whittled the choices down to only three: Typhoon, WhiteOut, and Distortion. Mountain Dew even crowdsourced the marketing of the flavors by allowing 4,000 Mountain Dew fans to divide up into three "Flavor Nations" that would decide the flavor name, packaging, and even the ad agency that would create promotions for each. The 3 flavors hit shelves, and the rest was up to the general public. In the end, more than 2 million flavor votes were submitted and the winner was picked: WhiteOut, earning 44 percent of the total votes.
Where Lay's allowed users to create their own flavor ideas, Mountain Dew's "Dewmocracy" campaign showed that consumers could also be tapped to pick between varieties of preconceived flavor directions as opposed to creating something brand new.
Ben & Jerry's
Ben & Jerry's ice cream is delicious no matter what city you're in. However, the brand's latest crowdsourcing effort is attempting to put a distinct flavor to five different U.S. cities including San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, New York, and Washington, D.C. The campaign, which kicked off this June and will be complete at the end of the month, uses various factors to contribute ingredients to flavors that will be unique for each city.
Instead of simply asking city residents which ingredients they would want to see in their city's flavor, Ben & Jerry's is using seemingly random city factors to make the decision. In New York City, cabs headed uptown are votes for vanilla ice cream and those headed downtown are votes for peppermint. In San Francisco, tear-off flyers around the city present a chance for consumers to tally votes for either marshmallow or pretzel toppings. After the votes are finalized on June 30, the completely exclusive ice cream flavor will be served for one day only at community events in each city later this summer.
The powerful brewery Samuel Adams recently turned to Facebook to crowdsource a new flavor of their popular beer.
Users were asked to vote on different characteristics that the beer should have such as color, clarity, body, hops, and malt. The result is a "slightly hazy, medium bodied, amber ale with a spicy hop aroma, notes of toffee and a smooth, yet spicy finish," according to a press release by the brewery. B'Austin Ale, the name of the crowdsourced Sam Adams brew, was premiered at SXSW 2013 in Austin, Texas to much critical praise. Instead of bottling the beer and selling it year round though, Samuel Adams decided to keep the consumer interaction going by making the recipe and brewing method for the B'Austin Ale available to the public!
Coca-Cola has fully embraced user-generated content with several successful crowdsourcing campaigns in recent years. Most notable, however, was Coke's decision to give its marketing creative brief to consumers in North America, Asia, and Latin America instead of a high-powered ad agency, as is the norm. An incredible quantity of content was created with more than 3,600 submissions including animation, illustration, film, and print advertising. Out of those 3,600, 10 of the highest quality were chosen and shown to creative directors and other ad professionals from around the world with one winning ad eventually shown. Surprisingly, the winning ad, "Happiness is in the Air," was ranked in the top 10 percent of ads shown globally after its debut on Valentine's Day during "American Idol," proving that user-generated content can test very, very well.
And the best part: The only cost to Coca-Cola was a one-time cost to tap into the creative community and a prize for the first place winner!
User-generated content is quickly becoming the norm for brands that want to reach their consumers and brand advocates on a more personal level. And not only is it effective, but compared to other media it's incredibly efficient. And as we saw with Coca-Cola, it can test very well and compete with agency created campaigns. As more and more consumers are being given a voice and the tools to interact with brands, we will start to see more creative ways brands are taking notice. Marketers must realize that consumers are no longer satisfied with being just spoken to, but they want in on the conversation and to be more involved with their favorite brands.
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"Abstract illustration of social network around the world" image via Shutterstock.