Category Archives: Marketing

Twitter won’t kill the general feed, cos that’d kill Twitter

Long-time Twitter users, myself included, value it mostly for the general feed (everyone you follow, live and in chronological order) and the ability to replicate the general feed model for specific lists you’ve made of people you follow and for specific search terms and hashtags.

They need the cash to settle this guy's image rights suit
They need the cash to settle this guy’s image rights suit

At the same time, Twitter is a confusing experience for novices and newbies – and to keep the venture capital taps flowing, the service needs to demonstrate growth.

So this week Twitter-the-company has talked about taking something that resembles its existing “discover” feed, which shows some highlights from the last couple of days of a user’s interactions, their friends’ interactions, and paid-for commercial content, and steering new users towards this ahead of the general feed.

This has cause a bunch of people who mostly should know better to lose their shit (sample lazily pulled from the article above):

There is a tiny flaw in their reasoning: it is bollocks.

Why? Well, you need to remember that Twitter’s value – to users and advertisers alike – is completely different from Facebook’s.

Facebook collects detailed demographic information and combines that with your interactions with the site to create a scarily tailored advertising profile. That’s what it’s for. At work this week, I bought a Facebook advert to reach people in Perth, WA who are interested in space exploration. This would have been simply impossible before Facebook existed.

It's difficult to manage a wide group of stakeholders
It’s difficult to manage a wide group of stakeholders

Twitter doesn’t. It provides a direct, unmediated platform for anonymous people, pseudonymous people, named people, famous people, and brands, to all interact on the same level. It doesn’t collate demographic information; the demographic profile data it shows to advertisers is based on surveys of people and the networks they use, not on the information they provide to the site.

But the demographic profile it has is extremely valuable: Twitter’s users are older and richer than the users of any network other than LinkedIn. They are also stroppy as hell, as the storm over this issue (not to mention every other issue that there is in the world) has confirmed.

Twitter-the-company has a balancing act to run, trying to bring in new users so it doesn’t get Kiss of Death growth headlines that deter people from putting up money, but at the same time making damn sure it doesn’t alienate its existing users to any degree beyond that which is necessary to sell advertising, because that would also deter people from putting up money.

The way it deals with this balancing act will, absolutely and definitively, not be by turning into a version of Facebook with the targeting data that makes Facebook into Facebook removed.

So stop worrying. It’s not going to happen.

A template for non-spammers sending ludicrous PR emails

As someone who works in social media marketing, my definition of ‘spam’ isn’t aligned with the definition among techie purists. This is mostly because I think “talk to someone unless they tell you to go away” is a completely legitimate way to behave, in life as in work, whereas techie purists tend to think “don’t talk to anyone, ever, unless they beg you to talk to them” is the way the world should be. Yes, stereotypesLOL.

I can certainly make common ground with techie purists on the concept of how fucking annoying it is when you do tell people at nominally legitimate companies (not talking “send your money to Nigeria for Viagara” crap here, all of my email addresses are on the web and I’ve not received that kind of spam for years. FILTERS: THEY WORK) to go away and they don’t.

However, given the utterly pisspoor state of lists at nearly all companies of all kinds, and the utterly urchin-child-intern nature of the poor sods who generally end up processing lists at PR firms, it seems unreasonable to get angry at the individual on the end of the email (*). So I don’t.

My recentest response to such an email is here, partly for public edification, and partly so I can Google it next time.

Dear [xxx]s as an organisation, please remove me from all of your press lists of all kinds and add me to your (DPA-mandated, so you must have one, right?) list of people who have requested that you never contact them again – obviously, apart from the email to confirm that this has been done.

Dear [yyy]l, I’ve asked your predecessors to take me off their lists before but apparently my address has still been passed on to you. Apologies for sending you a grumpy message due to wider organisational problems that aren’t your fault, please don’t take it personally.

Sorted.

(*) far more unreasonable than, say, a comedian getting angry at a heckler who’s deliberately choosing to be part of the comedy act, rather than some poor sod who’s getting paid and doesn’t want any trouble. People who get personally lairy at customer service operatives are the lowest of the low.

Tesco Academy

I went to a state primary school; admittedly, one in a fairly posh part of the world (Christchurch School in Ware, Hertfordshire, for the morbidly curious). It was the 1980s; education was OKish; there were about 30 people in my class, and the ones who properly dribbled on themselves were removed for maths and English lessons.

I discovered Sue Townsend when I was about 10 and therefore managed to get the entire class of Year 6es singing anti-Thatcher songs loudly in assembly, until the deputy head told me that if I didn’t stop doing that they’d tell my nan on me.

I was in the choir. I know that’s a remarkable concept for those who know me these days, but I somehow lost my ability to sing whenever my voice broke. Oh well, it probably saved me some abuse or other. We were a good choir. We went to Cambridge to enter the Best Year 6 Primary School Choir Competition. We lost. It was probably because I couldn’t sing. Also, our song was bloody lame.

But the other thing we did as a choir – and I’m still in awe this happened in 1989 – was to sponsor Tesco’s. There was a walking-running challenge from Newcastle to London sponsored by Tesco, and alongside their computers (or, possibly in those days, typewriters) for schools vouchers, some of my classmates’ mums, aunties and sisters were participating in this challenge. So we were nominated, as a Leading Choir, to record the theme for the Tesco North To South Run Song. What we sang was, to the tune of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In”:

Tesco is here!
Tesco is here!
So can we have a great big cheer!
(YAY)

…the rest of that verse is sadly lost, apart from the soul of Tesco’s then ad agency and then marketing director, where it’s permanently etched in the blood of innocent children.

They’re setting forth right in the North
Collecting money all the way
[repeat first bit]

We were eventually rejected, presumably because one of the choirs on the route from Newcastle to London kicked our arses. Which is probably, again, my fault. Or, reflecting on the scenario 21 years later, the fault of the satanic bastards who set the challenge up in the first place.

This weird occurrence is something I’ve been meaning to blog for ages, mostly in the sense of “marketing to kids is more insidious than when I were a lad? Fuck off”, and also just in the sense of “that happened. No, that actually happened. A choir of kids sang ‘Tesco is here, so can we have a great big cheer’. That happened.”

So yeah. Now that my mates are parents, and angry about marketing, I still can’t think of anything more insanely blatant than that one. If Tesco did it today, they’d be keelhauled, and possibly hanged at the yard-arm.

World leader? Not even close

Matt Yglesias, who used to be a liberal US commentator but seems to have turned into a neo-liberal US commentator, has a very odd piece on retailing, in which he argues that being awesome at retailing is the US’s major skill, which will one day benefit poor benighted foreigners:

We’re the world leaders in retail sector organizational innovations, as witnessed by McDonald’s semi-hegemonic global position and the fact that in a place like China where it’s not number one, the company it lags behind is another American firm. But here in the U.S., we’ve long since pushed beyond mere fast food into the realm of big box retailing, with Wal-Mart leading the way. But thought both these firms have some international operations, they’re evidently not that big and in the case of Home Depot seem largely limited to Canada and Mexico and Wal-Mart doesn’t operate in continental Europe at all… That kind of thing will probably change over time, to the benefit of European consumers, and I guess make the Walton family even richer.

Now, there are only two ways in which I can envisage Matt might have come up with this argument. One is that he’s never been abroad, never looked at any case studies on retailing, never spoken to anyone who worked in retail strategy, and never looked at any reports on US retailers’ attempts at international expansion. The other is that he’s well aware that the above is absolute, ridiculous insane nonsense on stilts, but is writing it anyway.

Having worked in retail consultancy, the retailers that people admire and seek to emulate for their amazing supply chain skills are Tesco, Carrefour, Inditex (Zara), IKEA, Aldi, H&M, AS Watson (Superdrug) and Amazon. One of these retailers is from the US, six are European, and one is from Hong Kong.

Wal-Mart has repeatedly tried to expand internationally, but has only been successful in Mexico and Brazil. It has a strong position in the UK, but this was achieved by buying the country’s fastest-growing retailer in 1999 for an enormous price tag, and not changing very much subsequently. Its operations in emerging markets lag way behind Tesco and Carrefour. It invested vast sums in trying to build a German operation, but eventually ended up closing it down because it couldn’t compete with Aldi and Lidl (who pay vastly higher wages but run a more efficient supply chain – and the former is increasingly doing so in the US as well).

Wal-Mart excels at regulatory capture and union-busting, and is good enough at being a retailer to make a lot of money in markets where it’s established a dominant position. Unlike the companies on my list above, it isn’t good enough at being a retailer (in terms of branding, store experience and supply chain management) to establish major positions in markets where it starts without a dominant position. And “being just about competent enough that you can keep your monopoly alive” isn’t really a highly exportable trait, or a particularly beneficial one to The World At Large.

Although on the other hand, it is a pretty good description of the area where big US businesses are actual world-leaders, whether we’re talking healthcare, oil, telecoms or software…

Unilever isn’t being racist – but you are

Aussie blogger Melinda Tankard Reist has a rather misguided post on Hindustan Unilever’s controversial face-whitening Facebook app:

Playing on certain racial insecurities by telling dark skinned people that they can never really be beautiful – that’s what Unilever is doing… These products promote ethnocentric stereotypes about the superiority of white people.

Hmm. So in two sentences accusing Unilever of racism, she’s managed two rather irritating, patronising – and indeed, accidentally racist – mistakes.

The first is ‘non-white-European people don’t have opinions or make decisions’. So if Hindustan Unilever comes up with a marketing campaign, it must be because a white man in London told them to.

Great… except for the fact that Unilever’s Asian marketing operation is run by an Indian man in Mumbai, is locally devised and locally executed, and London doesn’t pre-approve campaigns.

The second is ‘the US-derived model of white-European versus everyone else is the only way to view prejudices and stereotypes based on skin colour’. So obviously if people in India are being told that lighter skin is better, that’s so they can be more like Europeans and less like Indians.

Great… except for the fact that the Indian preference for paler skin has absolutely cock-all to do with wanting to be European, and a great deal more to do with the fact that within India, long before the British invasion, the ruling castes have been paler-skinned than the workers (partly because they’re more likely to be of Persian descent, and partly because they don’t spend their time working in the hot sun).

Once you stop viewing non-European cultures through the prism of European race relations, playing on people’s desire to appear lighter is no worse than playing on their desire to appear less spotty or wrinkly. So if people from European cultures object to this campaign any more strongly than they’d object to a campaign for an anti-wrinkle cream, they’re basically telling Indians that they have to follow European values. Which is distinctly Not Cool.

No, the Old Spice campaign hasn’t failed

There seems to be a meme floating around the social marketing world at the moment that the super-notorious Old Spice mass media and viral ad campaign has failed to drive sales, despite grabbing mindshare and winning awards. This seems to be based on a Brandweek article that isn’t available on their website (w00t new media marketing excellence, not), but that has been excerpted here. It says:

[S]ales of the featured product—Red Zone After Hours Body Wash—aren’t necessarily tracking with that consumer appeal: In the 52 weeks ended June 13, sales of the brand have dropped 7 percent according to SymphonyIRI. (That amount excludes those rung up at Walmart.) P&G execs were not available to comment.

SymphonyIRI get their sales data direct from the tills in all major US supermarkets except Walmart (who figure they’re big enough that they’ve got more to lose than to gain from sharing their data with competitors), so it’s pretty reliable. I wish I had access myself – I have done for projects in the past, and damn it’s good, but a subscription costs millions of dollars…

However, even without access to the data, we can easily show that the Brandweek piece is absolutely irrelevant. First, a quote from Forbes last Thursday:

Total sales for Old Spice body wash at supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers excluding Wal-Mart were up 16.7% in the 52-week period ending June 13, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

In other words, assuming both articles are accurate, a specific sub-brand of Old Spice has fallen in sales, but the overall brand has risen in sales. Since the campaign primarily promotes Old Spice as a master brand (I didn’t even know it was plugging Red Zone After Hours Body Wash, and nor did you), the Brandweek article is somewhere between misled and misleading in its selective data usage.

Even if Forbes has somehow got its numbers wrong, and the Brandweek data is representative of the brand’s overall performance, this still wouldn’t show the campaign had failed. The IRI data covers a 52 week period – it’s comparing Jul 2009-Jun 2010 to Jul 2008-Jun 2009. The interesting comparisons for a breaking campaign (the ads started in February, and the social campaign’s been building since) are week-on-week (wk20 2010 vs wk20 2009) and month-on-month (Jun 2010 vs Jun 2009), not averages for the whole year. If sales fell in the second half of 2009 and were gradually revived this year by the campaign, the 52 week data wouldn’t show this at all.

The most awesome thing about IRI data if you’re a marketing-stats-data-geek (guilty) is that it’s updated daily. So Procter & Gamble and its agency, Wieden & Kennedy, will know exactly, day on day how sales have reacted. They (well, they plus SymphonyIRI, Unilever, Colgate, and their respective marketing agencies) are the only ones currently in a position to say whether the campaign has worked. Until and unless they, or SymphonyIRI, or a naughty leaker working for a company with access to IRI’s database, tell us what the week-on-week comparisons are, we’ve got little idea whether or not the campaign has succeeded.

Well, except that Old Spice had been in decline as a brand for a very long time – so if there has been a 17% rise in 52-week sales as the Forbes piece suggests, then that’s a good indication that the rise in sales since the campaign launched in February is larger still.

Lesson: while everyone wants smug marketers to fail (yes, of course you do), a campaign that captures the public imagination to the degree that Old Spice has is bloody unlikely to fail to drive sales, at the very least in the short term. Relatedly, most people don’t understand data.