Deceptive Marketing and how the consumer gets screwed

December 4th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Today, I was browsing through my classmates’ blog posts and came across Eivan’s post about Gold’s Gym and its sweepstakes scam. I was quite shocked to hear that the Gold’s Gym at UBC (as well as other locations) lures people in by making them think they “won” a free month’s trial (when in reality, they seem to offer  this trial to everyone), only to lock them in a year-long membership as part of the conditions of the “prize”. I know people who are regular Gold’s Gym members who were not recruited through this method, so I was quite surprised that Gold’s Gym finds it necessary to carry out this “Bait and Switch” marketing practice (as Elaine described it) to gain customers.

Unfortunately, deceptive advertising is not as rare of a practice as it should be. Just a few days ago, Business Insider revealed that Ticketmaster will be refunding $1.50 per ticket sold over the last 12 years, thanks to a class-action lawsuit over those unexplainable “processing fees”. The lawsuit did not prohibit from Ticketmaster charging these fees in the future – rather, the ruling stated that Ticketmaster must put it in big red letters on their website that they are ripping you off. But hey, they’re just looking out for both the consumer and the corporation, right? Ticketmaster still needs to make a ridiculous margin in order to sleep at night, right? Oh, and the refund will only be provided to US citizens, because apparently Canadians are too busy drinking Maple Syrup and would be too nice to say anything about it anyways.

I think there are parts of marketing that will always be about deception – after all, marketing is all about making you think a product/company/service is greater than it really is. It’s just walking down that thin line between capturing every last bit of consumer surplus, and actually scamming customers, that marketers and companies have to be careful about – because it’s their reputation (and potentially a lot of money) that hangs on that line.

Zombie Boy and the Great Coverup

November 10th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Today I was taking the time to read some of my classmates’ blogs and I came across Debbie’s entry, which talked about Dermablend’s “Go Beyond the Cover”/Zombie Boy promotion. In a nutshell, Dermablend secured Montreal body artist Rick “Zombie Boy” Genest, one of the world’s most tattooed men, to demonstrate the effectiveness of its concealer. Dermablend created a commercial in which Zombie Boy starts out seemingly plain-skinned, but his tattoos are slowly revealed as the Dermablend concealer is removed.

There are a few aspects of this campaign that I think constitute effective marketing techniques:

1. Creating intrigue & capturing attention. I first came across Zombie Boy & this campaign on Tumblr. I normally have no interest in tattoos nor beauty products, but something made me pause on Zombie Boy as I was scrolling through my dashboard (the post looked something like this:)

At first it wasn’t at all clear to me what the sequence of photos was illustrating, but the last image and facial expressions were so striking that I clicked on the Rick Genest tag and was presented the actual commercial:

YouTube Preview Image

I believe Zombie Boy was first made famous by a Lady Gaga music video, and this campaign has generated significant additional buzz about something that normally wouldn’t appeal to the masses, which is quite an admirable feat.

2. This campaign displayed Dermablend’s complexity and observability. The complexity & observability of the product were explicity demonstrated through the use of the product to cover up Genest’s full body tattoos (which I’m sure was aided by a little post-production editing). Dermablend also used several message execution styles: creating a mood, using a personality symbol, and showing endorsement/testimonial evidence. As consumers we are often most influenced about a product through other consumer testimonials, and in this case Genest is a sort-of celebrity/authority giving his endorsement/testimonial of sorts by demonstrating his use of the product. It reminded me of last week when I heard the DJs on my morning radio trying out a product called Nanoblur, which is supposed to be a concealer with “Photoshop technology” – because the DJs represent figures of authority for me, I was pretty convinced to go out and grab a few as stocking stuffers for my relatives!

I expect this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Zombie Boy or the campaign. He may be doing for zombies (and tattoos?!) what Twilight did for vampires.

Turning Clicks into Cash

October 25th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

A few days ago I came across this article on Mashable (aka my favourite “news” source and the only one I have on my RSS) about Heinz running a promotion in the UK enabling people to send cans of soup to sick companions with “get well” messages written on them. Heinz joins what appears to be a growing trend of companies taking online content and turning it into physical/tangible products in “real life”. Some other examples: Apple’s recently announced Cards app, GetGlue’s check-in stickers, Kiip’s sponsored gaming rewards, and Lockerz’s virtual points prize redemption system.

And I think this trend has great potential to be big. As Apple has been given credit for playing a part in reviving the music industry, people are now calling the same thing for greeting cards. The Cards app model is the same as the Heinz promotion: you pay a little bit more than if you went to the store and bought the can of soup/card there, but for the extra price you save yourself the convenience of both the product purchase and personal delivery to your intended recipient. So, I don’t see the price being a hurdle (~$3 to send the personalized can of soup) – on the contrary, I’m more interested to know if that price covers all of Heinz’s variable costs of printing individual labels and delivering the cans (or paying a shipping company to).

This trend represents something even bigger in the marketing picture – ROI. With the emergence of e-marketing and social media in the past few years, the biggest question/catch has been determining their contributions to the bottom line, and I think this trend is one step in that process. The internet is enabling marketers to go one step further: instead of presenting a virtual advertisement, it’s getting products into people’s hands, which is all the more likely to build brand loyalty. I’m a big fan of the concept, and it’s a trend I’ll be watching closely.

Pairing messages of social change with entertainment

October 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

One thing I really like about marketing is the fact that it’s such a dynamic field, and marketers are always pushing innovation and creative boundaries in order to keep up and get their message out. When their message isn’t being heard, it’s time to try changing the medium/method.

Advertising Week logo This year’s Advertising Week is currently taking place in New York City, and one of the topics that came up was social change and how to sell it. While we traditionally think of PSAs, brochures/mail outs, and those students with clipboards that stand on the paths beside the Chem building who you always try to avoid as methods to advertise social change campaigns, the newest idea method (which was being discussed at Advertising Week) is integrating the messages into entertainment – specifically, movies and TV shows.

I can definitely see why this is becoming a new trend, as I reflect on the impact some of the recent examples they brought up had over the past several years. They mentioned An Inconvenient Truth (climate change), Contagion (the threat of global pandemics) and The Help (civil rights and equality), which were all films that had entertainment value but also carried important underlying messages about social issues.

March of the Penguins

March of the Penguins: A film with a meaningful message

But it’s not as simple as creating a well-made documentary with good production value and Morgan Freeman as the narrator (although March of the Penguins was pretty good). As Jason Rzepka was quoted in the article, “It can’t be read as a two-hour P.S.A.” It’s important that the message and the brand be matched, otherwise the cognitive dissonance created in the audience’s minds may diminish the impact of the message. When musicians are the mode of entertainment being used to deliver the social change message, they may be negatively regarded as sellouts.

In any case, it’s a pretty new & thus wide-open stage in the industry, so I expect it’s a trend we will definitely see more of. I’m all for it if we get more epicly-narrated films by Morgan Freeman.

Note: I’m going to own up to the fact that this blog is coming about 7 hours late. After handing in our group marketing project last night, and the killer week we had, I had no energy left to muster to post this!

Life in the time of Facebook

September 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Facebook has been very good to us for many things. Reconnecting people with old friends from school. Giving a platform for groups of complete strangers to be organized & rallied together around a single cause. Opening that channel for marketers to add value and build relationships with customers through real, genuine interaction (I’ll expand on this in another post, though).

With all the recent changes Facebook announced at f8 this week, I often wonder: who are these changes really benefitting? Us, the casual user? Facebook, the profit-making corporation? Or is it the marketers?

Last week in class, I brought up the announcement about Google Wallet. There was two sides of it: the cool phone-swiping, cardless payment aspect, and the slightly more creepy now-every-store-you-shop-at-will-keep-track-of-your-identity-and-shopping-habits-in-order-to-deliver-personalized-advertising aspect. And now there’s two parts to the new Facebook updates: the scrapbook/life chronicle aspect, and the now-every-company-should-have-its-own-branded-(verb)-a-(noun)-app/Facebook gesture, for which it’ll only have to ask permission to do once.

And that’s the thing that gets me – the more we become passionate about our technology & social media, the more we get wrapped up in all the updates and “innovative” features, the more we invite Facebook and companies to burrow into our lives. I check into a restaurant on Foursquare – oh look, there’s my coupon for next time. I blog about a company – oh look, they’re emailing me because they had a Google alert on their name. I level up in a game – oh look, free stuff from a company. Where is the line drawn between my personal, offline, REAL life, one where I have control over my wants & needs and privacy – and one defined by materialism and marketing and branded actions? Is Facebook and the like erasing that line completely? Or does it even matter? Have we been destined as the generation that “grew up with Facebook,” and that is to say, without any acumen of privacy or oversharing?

I’d like to beg to differ, but in order for people to hear me, I’d have to post it on Facebook.

Zuck Dawg gazing upon his new masterpiece, Timeline

I know I'm probably just being paranoid, but this seems like a pretty good way to get yourself stalked and attacked.

What I have learned about myself in Comm 299

April 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I remember the first class of Career Fundamentals, I walked in expecting the cost-benefit ratio of the course to be heavily skewed towards the “benefit” end of the scale. I think many of us were surprised at the amount of work we were eventually required to do (considering it was our only year-long course, worth a grand total of ONE credit), but I am glad that I took away a lot from the course: meeting & learning from the TAs, getting to hear from Philippe, and gaining the practical experience with resumes, cover letters and interviews.

Through going through the exercises of resume writing, cover letter writing, and interviewing, I learned a few things about myself:

  • Though I am a perfectionist, I am not perfect
  • I have gained a lot of practical work experience (aka soft skills) but had difficulty placing metrics on actual results of my work – perhaps more because of the nature of the roles in which I have worked
  • I have a tendency to elaborate on context and neglect acknowledging results

I think one of the most valuable things that Comm 299 brought to my attention was the process of breaking down a cover letter and resume into parts. Specifically: C.A.R. statements (cover letter), and accomplishment statements & adjectives/nouns/skills/values in profile statements (resume). Breaking down each section systemically into parts and being able to colour-code things and see the components that way really appealed to my visual/organized learning style, and it is definitely a transferable skill I will retain and use in the future.

Although I am sometimes doubtful about how touted the rigid resume structure we followed was (meaning, I know it matches Harvard’s standards, but it would not necessarily set us apart in a job application – many of the eastern B-Schools also use it), I think it was very valuable to be taught to limit ourselves to the one-page format, as I had previously had a 3-page resume from high school (shock! gasp! the horror!). I look forward to using the skills I gained in writing resumes/cover letters and conducting interviews in future job applications; I have also made it a goal this summer to set up several information interviews with some people I look up to. To success!

My greatest lesson learned from…

March 24th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve always been wary of writing prompts containing superlatives because for one, I have a poor memory, and two, my life hasn’t been exceptionally interesting at any one point. No, really. I’ve lived and grown up in Vancouver all my life (not gone to 3 different high schools in 3 different countries), I dedicated 16 years to and became, all considered, relatively mediocre at gymnastics (not basketball, or volleyball, or just some competitive team sport that UBC offers), I grew up in a single parent household (but had such a hardworking parent that we never really noticed), and was labelled as “gifted” at a young age just to realize that it was more of an excuse to put a bunch of us eccentric children together so as to not disrupt the “normal” kids throughout elementary and high school.

With that disclaimer, I certainly have attended some inspirational conferences and probably picked up some noteable lessons from others along the way (despite never having achieved my childhood dream of travelling… oh, just about anywhere outside our province). I can’t pinpoint exactly when or who, but the one that’s stuck with me until now is to figure out what you want, and don’t let anyone sway you from your ultimate goal (no matter how lofty). I just made that up right now, but I’m sure someone said that at some point.

I always thought I was at a disadvantage growing up because, instead of imagining one thing I wanted to do, or having no idea at all, I had (and still have) way too many things I want to do (or be) in my lifetime. It changes from year to year.. or month… but right now, I know where I want to be (though not necessarily what I want to do).

Along my arduous relatively unexciting journey to university, there were a few family/friends/teachers along the way who thought to offer their sage advice on what I should do or where I should go. Unfortunately and obviously unbeknownst for them, even if I hadn’t made my up mind by then, I certainly wasn’t interested in what they had to say – because, who but me could really tell me what I wanted to do with my next four years life?

Now, with that said, of course I respect others and their opinions/insights. But this is one thing I knew I could figure out on my own, and my family slipping hints and whispers of “you’re so good at Sciences” and “your grades are good enough for Medical School” and “you could help people by being a Doctor” just drove me farther away from my second choice. I know it’s hard for anyone at this point to say for sure what they want to do or be for the rest of their life, but I’m not really concerned about making that decision now anyways. What I do know is there are certain companies, in certain industries, with certain people, that I’d like to work for. And no one is going to sway me from my dream(s). 🙂

(sorry for being so long-winded, Lauren!)

The business ethics of Groupon

December 2nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

A few weeks ago I wrote about Groupon and how it has flourished as an entrepreneurial business. Groupon serves two groups of customers: the consumers who buy the coupons, and the small businesses that run deals with Groupon.

Posie's Cafe and owner Jessie Burke

While Groupon does a pretty good job of satisfying the first group, there are a few recent incidents that have emerged putting Groupon’s relationship with its small business partners in the spotlight. Portland-based Posie’s Cafe ran a “$6 for $13 of Bites and Beverages” deal in March 2010, and with almost 1,000 vouchers bought, the owner made claims that she lost over $8,000 at during one month of the process. Groupon also sold 2,000 vouchers for a photography business in Marietta, GA, when it emerged that, not only could the business possibly serve that many consumers in a year, but the owner was advertising with stolen photographs.

Groupon’s blog post in response to Posie’s brought up a good point that had been lost on me as a consumer: Groupon is essentially an advertising service, more so than a coupon/discount provider. Small businesses pay (or sacrifice) by splitting 50% (usually) of the coupon’s revenue with Groupon for getting its name out there to Groupon’s massive emailing list/network. The profits only roll in once Groupon customers become repeat ones or buy more than the $13 of discounted products.

This, in my mind, begs the question: are all of Groupon’s business practices ethically sound? The situation with Posie’s raised the point that Groupon takes 50% of a deal’s revenue for a pretty low value-added service. Regardless, it is the responsibility of business owners to critically consider the opportunity costs of offering a Groupon for their business. Hopefully they will learn from Posie’s and others before making any rash business decisions.

Guerilla marketers take the war to social media

November 30th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Case 3 brought to my attention Ambush Marketing, an interesting and relevant topic with respect to the various major sporting events that have occurred in the past year. By its nature, ambush marketing can take on many different forms and faces, but at its foundation, it involves a company associating its brand with an event without paying sponsorship dollars for the association.

Some amusing guerilla marketing from FedEx

Related to ambush marketing but slightly different is Guerilla Marketing, which involves the use of unconventional and often stealthy campaigns capitalizing on “time, energy and imagination”. Since guerilla marketing and social media pretty much go together like Dell and UPS, it’s not surprising that it’s found its way onto Twitter. Hey, if it worked for Obama

A couple days ago, a company bought promoted tweet hashtags #apple, #mac, and #macbook – but it wasn’t Apple. Hewlett-Packard did some sneaky guerilla marketing on Twitter by buying the hashtags and then linking the tweet to its online computers store. The article states that it’s an old marketing tactic, but I was personally surprised to learn this was occurring on Twitter.

HP hasn’t been the only company to use Twitter as an advertising war platform – Google and Microsoft went head-to-head with simultaneous promoted tweets a couple weeks ago too. It’s easy to see why guerilla marketing is so well supported by social media: when a campaign is successful or buzz-worthy, it can be widely discussed and spread via social media, thus further amplifying the campaign’s triumph.

While social media is still in its relative infancy, it will be interesting to see how far marketers push the envelope in social media for their campaigns. With any luck, one day it’ll be me creating and carrying them out 😀

Groupon as an entrepreneurial business

November 15th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

QuickMBA differentiates an entrepreneur from other small business ventures by 4 qualities:

  1. Large generation of wealth
  2. Rapid generation of wealth
  3. High risk
  4. Innovation

As I am quite interested in the world of tech startups and internet ventures, one business that fits the above characteristics sticks out in my mind – Chicago-based group-buying daily deals site, Groupon.

It’s no secret that since the startup began in 2008, Groupon has become wildly successful, spawning clones left right and center in the US and China (in the hundreds!). As the article mentions, Groupon raised $1 billion in valuation in half the time that Twitter took, and half a year faster than Facebook. Estimates have put Groupon’s pure profit at $1 million a week, a huge amount for a relatively new business with minimal overhead costs – they sell no tangible products, only virtual vouchers. Hence, Groupon clearly fits the first two definitions of an entrepreneurial business.

In terms of high risk and innovation, when these two characteristics are applied to Groupon, they kind of go hand in hand. Groupon began the collective buying craze with an unprecedented model, and with any new online/tech startup, there is risk of failure (and social media mockery). Groupon also breaks one of the fundamental startup rules – basing your success purely on that of others. Nonetheless, it seems to be working… for Groupon itself. There is debate about the effect Groupon has on some of its small business partners – but that’s a topic for another post.

  • About Me

    2nd year Sauderite, IB survivor. Canucks & Habs fan. Gymnast of 16 yrs. Aspiring Web/Graphic Designer. Social Media enthusiast. Occasional Apple fangirl.
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