Posted by: | 7th Apr, 2011

Google: Hoax Marketing

A long way from traditional TV and print advertising, the trend in how companies compete for consumers’ attention is heading towards bigger shock value, more viral impact, and in more creative, unconventional ways.

I recently came across a classmate’s blog on Google’s latest April Fool’s Hoax of G-Motion, where with “simple intuitive action” you can check your email without using old-school technologies such as the keyboard and mouse, but instead let the webcam detect your motions to direct the email messaging. As Claudia comments, the visualization of using this fake technology is silly, but also creative on Google’s part – and it did create positive buzz for the company, even after consumers realized that it was a hoax.

Google has a tradition of doing multiple annual April Fool’s hoaxes (since year 2000), and you can check the comprehensive list of them here. These hoaxes have generated a lot of traffic and publicity for Google – the G Motion video currently has over 6 million views on Youtube (originally uploaded on March 30th). On one hand, such hoaxes have the effect of serving as bait for consumers to capture their attention; and creatively executed ones such as Google’s annual pranks does achieve that purpose, while enhancing the company’s overall image as being quirky and imaginative.

Some may argue that “hoax marketing” may be unethical in some situations – but for Google’s case – the company has clearly communicated the true nature of its hoaxes, by portraying the hoaxes in a way that’s unrealistic and easy to identify as fake; by establishing them as an annual tradition; and by immediately acknowledging it as a hoax on April Fool’s Day.

In this age where companies are actively competing for the increasingly scarce resource that’s consumer’s attention and loyalty, they must use increasing creative and innovative methods to stand out (i.e. Heineken prank, Gatorade Replay football match, flashy outdoor ads, Hoax Marketing).

What are your views on the ethics of using hoax marketing to promote a company? Were you disappointed or angry when you “found out” that the G-Motion was a hoax?

I’m including below some popular viral marketing hoaxes (The Levi’s video was heavily criticized after being “exposed” as a hoax.) that I’ve found particularly interesting.

Rear View Girls (for Levi’s Jeans). Original Video generated millions of views, but have since been taken down.

Video showing cell phones that can make popcorn; purpose was to promote cell phones.

Posted by: | 23rd Mar, 2011

What Makes a Great Ad?

I love watching ads. For the past few decades, the word “advertising” have been associated with negative connotations of images of smooth talking snake-oil salesmen, manipulating corporate schemes, and self-esteem damaging beauty/fashion ads. How many times have you watched commercials with a model with flawless skin promoting acne cream or a laundry detergent that cleans 3 times better than the leading competitor (how do they measure that anyways?) and groaned at its blatantly exaggerated claims?

But every once in a while, when I see a great ad that I identify with, that I relate to, and feels authentic – it really sticks with me, and form lasting positive connotations for the brand it is advertising. The truth is, we don’t want to merely see perfection in ads – it only pulls us in on an artificial level, rather than creating brand loyalty. Furthermore, companies that run ads that strive for images of perfection in advertising their products may risk being perceived as not trustworthy or believable. Ads that create scenes/images that embrace what’s real, authentic, believable and relatable have the most long-term impact on consumers.

Martin Lindstrom (2009 recipient of TIME Magazine’s “World’s 100 Most Influential People) writes in his article Why Brands Should Strive for Imperfection about a study that a European cosmetic company conducted, where they wanted to cut a 90-second ad to 30-seconds, and tested consumers on which segments were the most emotionally engaging (using a neuro-science tool). Surprisingly, it was the scene of two women crying and comforting each other that was the most powerful (and the scene executives originally wanted to cut out). They ended up running that 30-second segment. Afterwards, “when asked to pick a product in a simulated retail store, they ended up ‘buying’ 35 percent more of the brand”.

I’d like to share one of my favourite ads of all time – a touching Pantene ad that ran in Thailand that is completely different from the usual Pantene-style ad (beautiful model, unrealistically perfect shiny long hair, product-focused, voice-over, etc). This ad, unlike the usual Pantene ads, is simple, authentic, evokes emotions, with a storyline that we can all relate to. It has no pretentions of glorifying its product by showing off its benefits, but merely introduces an integrated core concept – that with Pantene – you, too, can shine.

Posted by: | 17th Mar, 2011

Tetley’s new ads – not my cup of tea

If you wait for the Skytrain every morning, chances are that you have noticed the odd ads for Tetley Colour Therapy Herbal Tea at the Skytrain stations. The only way I can describe my reaction to them is … confused, and taken back at why they would advertise Herbal Tea in such a way that elicits imagery of unappetizing items (such as damp socks).

Allow me to explain – these ads feature the product, a can of Tetley Colour Therapy Herbal Tea, in the colour in the same family as the colour of the can, and each features slogans such as:

– “Damp Socks go well with Orange” for the orange coloured can named “Warmth”
– “Inarticulate speaker announcements go well with purple” for the purple coloured can of tea named “Clarity”
– “Uncovered Sneezes go well with Yellow” for the yellow coloured can named “Cleanse”.

I couldn’t find these ads online, so I did my best (using my limited Paint skills) to recreate one of the ads.

Referring to our current studies on Integrated Marketing Communications – this ad fits in the “awareness” aspect of the AIDA Model – we notice the ad, its bright colours and its odd slogans. But the ad does not generate interest in or desire for the product, and does not motivate us to buy the product. Rather, it evokes feelings of confusion and criticism for its choice of words. Tetley encoded its message to try to elicit interest in its new line of teas and show consumers that Tetley Colour Therapy Herbal Teas has a colour to fit everyone, every mood – but consumers did not decode it the way that the company intended them to, for these reasons:

1) The moods/situations presented in these slogans (i.e. damp socks, inarticulate speaker messages) have a negative overtone – with situations that you’d encounter if you’re having a bad day. Messages with a negative overtone will not easily elicit motivation to buy the product. Instead, they could have focused on how there’s a colour for every personality by using positive, inspirational imagery/wording.

2) The situations in these ads are not easily relatable/understandable – the concepts presented are not clearly related: i.e. the Purple ad is trying to say, “drink this tea called Clarity when you are annoyed by inarticulate speaker messages”. The message is neither compelling nor completely logical.

3) The imagery presented is off-putting – the practice of putting the word “damp socks” and “uncovered sneezes” in an ad for Herbal Tea is questionable.

I looked further into their website – their message to introduce this new line of herbal teas is:

For every mood,
Every emotion,
Every State of Mind,
There’s a colour
That’s right for you.

The website then redirects us to an interactive interface where we have to option to find our colour through a Colour Therapy survey; look at other people’s colours and their comments on why that colour fits them, or visit their Facebook page.

Tetley is doing a good job in intergrated marketing communications on their website – personalizing the experience by choosing a tea based on the customer’s mood, preferences, and personality. From Yellow-Cleanse (lemon & honey) to Pale Green – Soothe (ginger & mint), customers are already raving about its range and taste in online reviews.

However, if the Skytrain ads (read by thousands of people everyday) continue to be displayed, perhaps it will risk losing some of its prospective customers.

Posted by: | 9th Mar, 2011

Sauder – Branding YOU

Marketing is pervasive – it has always been present in some form or the other in our lives. When you look at the top executives, engineers, lawyers, architects – they’ve all used personal marketing (and of course persistence and intellectual brainpower) effectively to get themselves where they are today.

Proctor and Gamble receives over 100,000 applications a year – only 725 are hired on average. Goldman Sachs receives approximately 53000 applications a year; with 900 people hired on average (Data from Princeton Review’s “Best Entry-Level Jobs”. What does it take to become among the 0.725% or the 1.7% (respectively) that receive offers from two of the most prestigious corporations in the world? The same reason you choose to purchase products from a certain brand among the myriad of brands vying for your attention at the supermarket – branding.

Ever since I transferred to Sauder, I’ve been amazed by the services that Sauder provides to make its students as competitive as possible in the job market. First is COMM 299, in which you come out with a polished, effective resume and cover letter that highlights strengths and results and interview skills. Sauder also does a great job providing workshops (I’ve attended Careers in Night, Careers in China, etc) relevant to current student interests, co-op info sessions, industry mentorship programs, scholars programs, case competitions, conferences and job and involvement opportunities. Compared to my previous faculty, Sauder is doing a lot more to not only prepare students for the workplace, but also push them to succeed. The result – the average Sauder grad makes a starting salary of over $40,000 a year – above the current average income in Canada!

Of course how effective our personal branding is also depends on the individual, and their motivation, interests, and passion. But I know that no matter what option I choose, or where I end up, I will have Sauder to thank for helping my reach my dream career. It packages us students individually to present our best to the world, and also markets Sauder as a brand to the business community in Vancouver, nationally, and internationally. Even though Eastern Canada (with all the marketing and finance headquarters) have an advantage in location and business activity, Sauder’s performance in job placement is on par (and perhaps even better) than these schools.

Sauder Bcom Employment Statistics by Functional Area (From Annual Report 2010)

For more information: 2010 Annual Bcomm Report

McGill Desautels BCom Statistics - it fares slightly better on average

John Molson School of Business (Concordia University) - the salary averages are on par (or slightly lower) than Sauder

For its success in branding its business students, Sauder gets an A+ from me. Now if only other faculties can catch on, to make UBC a leader in job placement, student branding, and university prestige. (Then maybe the jokes about Arts students being homeless after they graduate will eventually stop …)

Posted by: | 3rd Mar, 2011

Goodbye Sephora, Hello Wal-mart!

Our in-class discussions about pricing and a product’s perceived quality from customers had me interested about the story of a certain high-end cosmetic brand originally sold in Sephora that was discontinued but returned last year to be sold in – of all places – Walmart. Products that used to retail in the $20 – $50 range is now being sold for less than $10 at a discount retailer The brand I’m thinking of is Hard Candy cosmetics – it launched a 261-item line exclusive to Wal-Mart last fall to 3000 stores, with expected sales of $50 million in the first year, retailing between $5 to $10 and targeting women between 18 and 35.

This is a company that’s shifting its target market to a wider market of women between 18 and 35 who are looking for affordable, quality cosmetic items. Compared to its lagging sales when it was sold in Sephora at significantly higher prices (and competing against reputable brands such as Lancome, Estee Lauder, Urban Decay) – moving away from the high-end cosmetics market was a smart choice. When we examine the brand and its products – it is colorful, young, and invites experimentation with its bright colors. But low prices does not indicate low quality – it finds itself in an interesting position where the brand’s products are associated with high-end quality but is offered at drugstore-cosmetic prices, accessible by the everyday consumer.

This move is also reflective of Walmart’s efforts to appeal to higher income shoppers, especially taking advantage of increasingly frugal consumer spending habits during economic recessions. Experts have speculated on whether this deal will make Walmart “a more worthy competitor for Target”. Looking at Walmart’s other initiatives to venture into upscale merchandise such as expanding its selection of name brand electronics and introducing a clothing line from the collaboration of Max Azria and Miley Cyrus – it is a possibility. However, Wal-mart’s potential gains from its foray into higher-end products may just be offset by the risk of losing its core low-income customers.

Posted by: | 24th Feb, 2011

The Cola Wars – 2011 Edition

I came across a thought-provoking post “Too much taste to be called a Zero” from Raissa Cheu’s blog , detailing the latest ad for Pepsi Max (a 0-calorie drink) with not-so-subtle blows at its main competitor, Coca-Cola. She raises some interesting observations about how the ad differentiates Pepsi from Coca-Cola (who sells an almost identical product) by using Snoop Dog endorsement, the image of the Coca-Cola employee drinking Pepsi, and also the slogan “TOO MUCH TASTE TO BE CALLED A ZERO” – another direct attack at Coke’s “Coke Zero” product. I do believe that Coke and Pepsi are among the companies that employ the most blatant brand comparisons in their advertising in order to differentiate themselves. Currently, according to Beverage Digest’s 2008 report, PepsiCo’s U.S. market share is 30.8 percent, while The Coca-Cola Company’s is 42.7 percent.

Let’s take a look at a chart I’ve made detailing some major initiatives by both Brands to differentiate themselves – sometimes using direct measures to discredit the competition.

The position of these two companies is that they are constantly competing for market share in a sort of “Tug-of-War” or “Cola War”. Almost identical product, identical prices, and similar marketing strategies that often are made in direct response to the other’s strategy. Perhaps new strategies are needed to reinvigorate and add innovation to the cola brands – perhaps brand extensions such as merchandise, or products such as sparkling fruit soda, cider, ice cream, stylish reusable bottles, etc ?

On an side note, some food for thought: in relation to Tamar’s lecture today on the disadvantages of having a Genericized brands (i.e. Kleenex) – Is Coca-Cola (or Coke) a genericized brand, as carbonated soft drinks are sometimes referred to as ‘coke” by the general population? And what effects did it have on Coca-Cola as a brand?

Posted by: | 10th Feb, 2011

The Future of Brand Loyalty

A few days ago, I purchased a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates at Shoppers Drug Mart for $8.99 – a little exorbitant for a little box of chocolates. But I’ve seen their glamorous TV ads and had consumed it with satisfaction previously, so I was assured that I’d bought a good product at a reasonable price.

However – a few days later, I spotted the same type of chocolates from the store’s in-house LIFE Brand, retailing for $4.99. As you can see below – the packaging and style are almost identical, and there was no difference in taste. And I thought – why would I buy Ferrero Rocher chocolates to eat if I can get an identical product at around half its price? For gift-giving, Ferrero Rocher may be more appropriate, but the Life Brand ones will be my chocolate of choice for my own consumption.’s post, Tracking the Generational Shift in Brand Loyalty
discusses this trend of wavering brand loyalty among consumers and raises some interesting questions. Marketers have always emphasized the importance of creating brand loyalty and even taking it one step further by creating incentive programs for loyalty. However, this long-held concept is about to face a reality check as a recent AMP Agency study showed that “a meager 3% of consumers surveyed in this age group [of 25 – 49] said they’re loyal to a particular brand”. The reason? Consumers are spending time and effort into researching products online before purchasing – 94% of those surveyed agreed that their purchases were positively influenced by research. The study notes that certain product categories such as electronics are subject to prior online research (64% of consumers) than others, like food or fashion (25% of consumers).

Extracted from

What does this new direction in consumer behavior mean for consumer product corporations around the world? It means that for these companies– this new behavior of “contemporary loyalty” means that they can no longer solely rely on advertising to boost sales. Consumers have “seized control and are more open to the wide choices in the marketplace”. The advertising claims must be backed up by solid, good quality, and reasonably-priced products, which in turn results in positive reception from consumers and product reviewers alike. This trend is especially acute during recessions, as research shows that 65% of US consumers have bought more generic brands to save money.

Many are willing to pay premium prices of over $100 for a Lululemon hoodie, and over $1000 for a Mac. Do they buy it merely because of strong brand loyalty (and effective branding), or perceived quality and reviews? And what about your purchases of things like dish detergent? Soft drinks? Backpacks? To what extent are you brand-loyal, for which products, and why?

Posted by: | 3rd Feb, 2011

The McWorld Phenomenon

McDonalds has been the leading global fast food chain for decades, but as seen in its aggressive efforts in the recent years, it has no plans to sit comfortably in its #1 spot. It has set ambitious goals on continuous global growth and gaining new markets – and its efforts have paid off as it reports consistent significant global sales increases. It has even given coffee giant Starbucks a run for its money.

Let’s take a look at McDonald’s major initiatives over the past few years that have strengthened its brand, attracted new market segments, and added value to its products.

1) Introducing McCafe: In early 2010, McDonalds planned to open more than 1000 McCafés within its outlets in Europe, with comfortable furnishing to compete with Starbucks to become the #1 coffee seller in Europe. It has an advantage in avoiding high investment costs by having the cafes within existing outlets and undercutting Starbucks by price. Store revenues rise by 20 – 25% on average after adding McCafe. In 2010, in the US, it added McCafe in all 13,900 locations, introduced free Wifi, and expanded its coffee drink menu.

McDonald's popular Rice Burger (Asia only).

2) Innovation in adapting menu offering to different countries: Effective market research has resulted in new (and profitable) offerings on its menu. In Taiwan, its Rice burger (introduced in 2005) has been so successful that it was introduced to other Asian countries. At McDonalds around the world, you can find pasta, poutine, souvlaki, and much more.

3) Healthy and Fast Food: catering to a more health-conscious society: McDonalds became the first fast food restaurant to provide nutritional info on most of its packaging in 2006. In the same year, it also added more salads, juices, yogurt parfaits, fruits, and bottled water. It introduced Fruit Smoothies in July 2010, reporting the highest increase in sales of the year.

4) Demographic Outreach: Addressing moms’ concerns over health and nutrition for their children, it introduced “Mom’s Quality Correspondents” in 2008: where moms are given access to McDonald’s food supply system and share about their (positive) experiences on the US website. In June 2010, it launched its first ad for gay customers in France.

5) Go where the crowd is – Winter Olympics 2010: As an official sponsor, its marketing strategy fully embraced the Winter Olympics with Twitter, special menu offerings, its McDonalds Olympic Champion Crew and Kids Program, and attracting athlete endorsements from J.R. Celski, Patrick Denee, Patrick Chan and Alexandre Bilodeau.

This humorous picture about Apple illustrates a never-ending innovative spirit, that McDonalds also possesses in its Marketing Strategy. It makes us wonder - what's next?.

Posted by: | 27th Jan, 2011

Not a Covergirl

Taylor Swift endorses Covergirl's new Natural Luxe line.

I bought my first cosmetic item with the help of a Shoppers Drug Mart cosmetics lady in Grade 9. That experience is significant not only because it was my first make-up purchase, but it also shaped a strong and enduring attitude that I have towards a certain cosmetics brand still to this day.

She inferred from my youthful and makeup-free appearance that I needed some guidance in choosing an item to buy. I picked up a CoverGirl eye shadow as we walked by the cosmetic displays.

Oh you don’t want to buy this one,” She told me, frowning in disapproval as she examined the product, “this brand uses a lot of harmful chemicals – it’s not good quality”.

From that day on and for the last 6 years, I’ve always swept by the Covergirl display stands – never lured by their glossy campaign ads, celebrity endorsements, or new product displays. Only once – I succumbed to the advertising promises of their Fantastic Lash Mascara campaign and bought their mascara. However, it irritated my eyes, further guiding me to disassociate myself from this brand. And a little more research shows that a number of Covergirl products contain a relatively high amount of toxic chemicals, and some of its product s were banned in Europe.

The Fantastic Lash mascara commercial that lured me deviate from my Covergirl boycott.

The image in my mind of lathering and piling on creams, liquids, and powders filled with toxic chemicals that seep into the skin and imposing long-term damage is powerful enough to make me boycott Covergirl products to this day. Covergirl brands itself as clean, fresh, and healthy, with product names such as “Fresh Complexion Foundation”, “Clean Liquid Makeup” and radiant celebrity spokeswomen – but the negative image I’ve associated the brand with is too overpowering.

I understand this is not the experience of the typical consumer – Covergirl is extremely popular as one of the top cosmetic brands in North America, and many women continue to love and advocate its products. But I would remain unconvinced by their advertising campaigns until they reformulate their products to become more skin-friendly and inform consumers about it.

For an example of how a company dispelled negative attitudes about “unrealistic and unattainable” ads in the beauty industry through a highly successful campaign for the “average woman” and for women of all ages, see Dove’s campaign video, below.

I was riding the bus home a few weeks ago when I noticed the ubiquitous bright pink Mobilicity signs – on the bus, at the shopping plaza near my house – everywhere. How did this relatively new brand (established in 2008) expand so quickly in the past few years? They have launched over 100 locations in Vancouver alone! They saw an opportunity – an unexplored target market and a mobile penetration rate of only 66% (Canada has only 66 mobile subscribers for every 100, compared to 87 in the US), and took advantage of it while setting their brand apart from the three Telecommunications giants in Canada. So foreboding is its emergence to the competition that Rogers struck out by introducing their own budget-friendly brand, Chatr. Mobilicity has since filed a lawsuit against Rogers for introducing Chatr with the purpose of driving discount phone brands out of business.

Mobilicity is taking advantage of opportunities at a rapid pace – positioning themselves as a market for the young and hip, for newcomers to Canada, and to those looking for affordable, no-frills plans. It has kept itself competitive with special plans for newcomers to communicate with their families back home, buying reliable network coverage, signing major distribution deals with HMV and 7-Eleven, involving coveted cell phone models, and keeping its operations lean with outsourcing.

However, as a junior player, it faces intense competition from the 3

Rogers Ad directly attacks Mobility

incumbents and barriers to attracting new customers from their current providers. Although its targets a slightly different market, it must be cautious of the incumbent’s bigger networks, distributors, resources, and counter-strategies (i.e Rogers’ Chatr, Telus’ Koodo). It also faces competition from other recently-emerged discount brands such as Wind Mobile and Public Mobile. Will Mobilicity become a sustainable player in the telecommunications market?

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