Remember that whole episode when Coke reportedly saw higher sales after they repeatedly flashed the words "Drink Coke" for fractions of a second while a movie was playing?  Not sure if it was ever actually proved that this sneaky advertising tactic had boosted sales, but almost every commercial we see - or even communciaiton we're exposed to, has several levels of messaging... not to mention the abundant evidence in one of the biggest industries keeping marketing alive and well: Politics! (political speeches are peppered with words that evoke a positive reaction/ emotion in crowds (there is actually a list of words that fit the bill!)).

But I recently saw commercial that used this technique in an awesome manner, creating literally a brand image, in black space.  The marketer is BMW  (tho I do have a major grouse with them - another post!) - and here is the story on how they made their (captive) audience actually "see" the BMW letters in their mind's eye.  All aided by a projector!

Arguably, we don't know how suited this is for mass media like the television or even the web... or to what extent the "sighting" is impacted by the already strong unaided recall their logo enjoys... but even so - hard not to be impressed!

How to tell a (compelling) story without saying a word

I was just blown away with this commercial - the focus is on the need to plan for uncertainties versus "guilting" people into action...

Customer dis-service!

Recently, I stopped at this strip mall for some dinner. My niece helped me find the place, and we were all set to eat some 'Dosa'. As was my 4-yr old :-)

However, when we got to the shopping area, we saw another Indian restaurant that had us salivating and running in as soon as we saw the name of the restaurant: Paradise Biriyani. Some context here: Paradise is an area in the city of Secunderabad, India, that's famous for its rendition of a delectable rice-lamb/chicken dish, called "Biriyani". I grew up feasting regularly on Biriyani, or just gulping in the all-pervading aroma if I was ever within a mile of the area.

So - as you can imagine, a place with the same name sounded like a sure bet I'd get the authentic version, so in the 3 of us rushed. Only then I realized that my son would find the Biriyani too spicy. So I asked the waiter if I could bring in one dosa for my son, while my neice and I ordered Biriyani. He looked all flustered, and called who I assume was the person-in-charge. Yup, you guessed it - he flatly refused!!! I explained, it was only for my little boy, who would not be able to eat the spicy Biriyani. But no, he would not relent!

Now mind you, it was a Friday evening at around 8:00 - prime time for Indian restaurants, yet he hardly had any customers. So it's not like he was on the Demand-Supply high-ground: nooooo, he was just sticking to his policy! I marched out, syaing "Your loss", and as the door shut behind me, I heard his indignant voice say, "Yeah that's OK". Darn right buddy, it is OK. Not only will I NEVER eat at your restaurant, I will tell every one who'll lend me a ear, about my experience! Just did ;-)

Hah - guess there was a reason his restaurant was empty on a Friday evening!!! Needless to say, the 3 of us feasted on some good Dosas that evening :-)

The verdict:
I won't even bother with stars - Mr. Policy, you don't even register on my radar.

See what??

I've seen this commercial around 2 times now. As the commercial starts, you hear the voice-over say something about reducing lines around the lip, that come with age... something that makes the lips look more plump etc.

Now one would think that most of such a commercial would center around the model's lips - which the camera does at the start of the ad, to demonstrate the age-related lines and capsizing (well, I exagerate) lips. But as the commercial continues. the models whole face is revealed in the 'after' shot. And guess what? You end up noticing her brilliant, blue eyes! Yes, yes - cognitive dissonance and all that - but how is that a good thing, when it completely takes the viewers attention away from the intended message? Even more baffling is that the model wears a very subtle shade of lipstick - tres chic, but the close-up of her face has only one feature you end up noticing: her eyes!

My verdict:
-203: it's a random number I picked to convey that not even the brand being advertised stayed in my head!

A billboard with a difference

Here's a billboard that caught my ear (yes, ear, not eye) the other day. I heard a story about it on the radio.

I was driving up on I-287 N, on the way to meet a friend back from my high school days, when I turned my dial to a station that had the news on. The reporter was talking about a crime that had been solved earlier that morning (Nov. 9th). This had been a hit-and-run perpetrated 2 years ago, that killed a 30-year old person from NJ. The police had been unable to solve the crime at that time. However, the victim's mother rented a bill board that urged anyone who had information on the case, to call the tip line.

Someone did - 2 years later.

In today's world, where one is bombarded with messages, this is a fantastic example of the right message reaching the right person and resulting in the right ending...

For all those who believe that marketing merely creates "wants" that people are otherwise oblivious of, this is a story that totally dispels that notion.

I won't try scoring this item - it speaks for itself, I think.

Do buy Dubai!

One generally does not think of a country when one talks about product extensions. But that's just the thought that struck me, as I watched a program on Dubai a few weeks ago. I've known that Dubai is being designed and positioned as a great destination for shopping and for vacations. What I did not realize is that this positioning is a carefully thought out strategy - not simply to being more visitors to Dubai, but to provide an alternative means of sustenance - to reduce the dependence on their natural oil reserves. Now THERE's a product extension, if ever there was one!

What was especially fascinating was that they were creating a man-made barrier reef in the waters. And an unexpected ancillary benefit that came out of this was that new sea life has begun to thrive in these reefs. So - higher revenues from a sustainable resource (versus fossil oils), AND an eco-friendly move.... NICE!!!

My verdict: WOW - as many stars as I can give!

Now THAT'S a deal :-))

I've always thought of a deal as a bargain - a mutually beneficial agreement. So this afternoon, I was amused when I bought lunch. I picked out a sandwich and soup and proceeded to pay for my purchases. The cashier asked if I wanted to add a soda and get the 'Sandwich, Soup and Soda' deal for $5.00.

Now given that I believe exercise is some sort of primitive revenge that the Gods wreak on humans, my strategy on weight management is: avoid the calories (unless we're talking donuts - hey, we're all going to die someday so if a Bavarian Kreme or Boston Kreme is going to do me in, count me in!).

So I politely declined the soda and got ready to pay for my lunch. Guess what? My purchases - sans the soda - cost me $5.29!!! Now THERE'S a deal :-) Had I known that refusing the soda would add to my bill, I'd have picked one up and given it to a colleague - or even just placed it back on the shelf - but this was just - well - too funny to even make my upset!

My verdict: -0.29 stars out of 6!!!
I'll admit that I am generally indifferent to savings under a dollar. Any thing less - even $0.99, is below my (psychological threshold) of "Oooo, I saved some money!". But in this case, regardless of how little the delta - 0.29 cents - I was really astonished with the complete lack of business logic! I'd have understood if they offered the soda so that my bill totalled $5.00 where it would have otherwise been less than $5. But this was plain and simple asinine! I honestly expected to pay just $5.00 - or less - since I was not getting the combo deal. Boy am I wiser today :-)

As for will I ever patronize this establishment another time: I think I will, simply because it is convenient - but I will make sure I ask for all the details of any new "deals" - even if I hold up the rest of the line for a good 5 minutes ;-)

UPS, now that's simply brilliant :-)

A news item caught my eye the other day... about how UPS looked at things just a little differently and saved a bunch of money (try the cost of 3.3 million gallons of fuel in just 1 year!). Agreed, I don't benefit directly from this change - but this is a change worth noting. Apart from telling me that this is an entity that thinks, it really is a tangible move a slightly, one hopes, greener world... Also - hey - if it means my package gets me a bit sooner, I'll take it!

UPS has begun to plan delivery routes so that the vehicles spend less time waiting to make a left turn. Drivers make a right instead, deliver packages for that route and then get to the spot on the left. Of course, if more states followed the not-so-intuitive but keeps-traffic-moving convention of jug-handle turns, UPS might not have needed to think in this direction :-) (That's a dig at all those non Jersey residents who are perplexed at having to turn right, to (eventually) make a left :-). Wikipedia does list a number of states other than New Jersey who follow this convention, tho)

My verdict: 6 out of 6 stars!
Absolutely! This is a simple, but brilliant idea, that in my books goes down as product innovation (assuming that the product is Logistics), and hence makes it on my radar. Way to go, UPS :-)

Happy anniversary, Mr. Dasgupta

It all began an evening in '97 when I was out at a company dinner in Hyderabad. We were at The Viceroy Hotel. It was a beautiful evening: we watched the Hussain Sagar lake, indulged in raucous banter and enjoyed a lot of sinfully good food. It truly was a great evening. At the end of the meal, along with the check was a survey.

Given that I seldom lack an opinion, I jumped at the chance to tell the Hotel just how much I enjoyed the evening. I also put in my name, address and birthday, leaving the anniversary section blank. I was curious to see if and how they'd use my contact information.

A few months later, my birthday rolls around - and guess what? I get a card from The Viceroy! I was thrilled to bits - until I open the card and read the message. Here's what it said:
Mr. Dasgupta - Best wishes on your anniversary etc.

Mr. Dasgupta? MISTER Dasgupta???? Hell-o-o - that's my Dad, not me!!! I'd be less critical if this happened in foreign country, though it does irk me then to see people use the "Mr." as a default... But this card had to have been processed by people from the same country and culture as I! Even if they had not asked me my gender, how hard is it too divine that Archita would merit a "Ms." (AND DO NOT ASSUME MRS!) versus a Mr.??? And Happy anniversary?! Granted a birthday is an anniversary of sorts, but can we stick with the traditional greeting, please?

My verdict: 2 out of 6 stars
It would have boded The Viceroy better had the not sent me a greeting at all. Their attempt to get on my radar and ensure my repeated patronage totally misfired. If you think it's too much for me to ask that you know me before you send me a communication, then please - do not send me any communications! After all, when you are trying to connect with your customer, the itty-bitty, tiny details do matter.

"Why give them a star at all?" - is that what I hear you ask? Well, that's Prof. Gould (my Marketing Research Prof.) speaking, really. Got to face it - Viceroy did get some things right:
- It asked me for my feedback and contact info.
- It obviously stored my contact info.
- It contacted me on the appropriate date

Which means that if they put in a little bit more of an effort, they can do brilliantly well. They need to:
- Capture my gender
- And if I decline, go with a generic "Dear Patron" sorta salutation
- Or just address me as Archita!
And please - if I provide you with a date, remember what I said it was!!! Given that I was single when the card came my way, it bothered me even more.

Just a few simple changes, and this would have been a really pleasant example of relationship-building/ direct marketing, especially since such a practice was still nascent in India back in '97...

I wonder what The Viceroy - and other organizations in India are doing to build a one-on-one bond with their customers these days... For the record: I won't hesitate to go to The Viceroy if/ when I get a chance... I love that city, I really like the hotel and its restaurant - and I'd love to see if The Viceroy will make a more earnest attempt to delight me this time around.

MetLife's "If" campaign

(OK - Disclaimer to begin with: Yes, I am currently employed by MetLife; but that has no bearing on my opinions below - I speak as just another soul who MetLife talks to with its new campaign)

I just love the MetLife "If" campaign: it captures a really profound message in a single word, "if". I remember the first time I saw an as a little girl, for a company that was selling Life insurance. The ad was black and white; it had a despondent widow with a really scared looking pair of children in it. The headline obviously talked to the main (typically male in those days) breadwinner of the family. The message was simple - will your family survive after you? It was effective, I'll give you that... but as a 10-yr old, it scared the living daylights out of me! You see, it made me picture the loss of my Dad - and that possibility simply traumatized me... I was too young to ponder the 'how will we survive' bit, but I was really upset with the notion that something might happen to my Dad...

Through the years, I've seen variations of that theme used by various names in the Insurance world. Fear was the key... And then finally, last year I saw the "If" series from Met. Wow, what a difference a simple change in the message can make!

My verdict: 6 out of 6 stars!
Undoubtedly, this campaign really resonates with how I - and I am sure most of us, would like to handle life... It focuses on the uncertain and capricious nature of life still... but by asking "if", it emphasizes the need to plan, in stead of triggering panic. It acknowledges that "if" is a(n unavoidable) part of "life" yet it takes away the fear of uncertainty... It effectively tells you that you have control. Also neat is that "if" is a part of the name of the company, "MetLife". It really all fits!

Another aspect of the campaign that I love - almost every person will find one ad that they can identify with. No longer is the Target audience the male and often sole earning member of the family... it is truly inclusive of everyone who needs to plan for the uncertainties in life. Whether it be retirement, a new baby, a marriage - whatever the if in one's life...

And finally - there's Snoopy :-) Did I mention somewhere that I love dogs???

"Life is uncertain dessert first"

Don't you just love that? That's what the menu card at Old Man Rafferty's says. It's a chain of 3 restaurants in New Jersey and is a delightful place to eat. But what really caught my attention was that line on their menu card: "Life is uncertain... eat dessert first".

Apart from the underlying philosophy to enjoy the here and now instead of constantly planning to live life some day, I had to smile at what I thought what was the business intent of this capitalizing on impulse buying - or ordering, so to say.

Think about it: when you get to a restaurant, when are you the most hungry? When your waiter hands you the menu, and you start reading all those mouth-watering descriptions of course. And when are you more likely to order dessert - even one much larger than you might at other times? When the old stomach is a-growlin', when it has not yet savored the appetizers, the entree, the main course et al.

That's when your mind is not thinking "Hmmm, I'm pretty full so may be I should get a tiny serving of dessert... or skip it altogether..." What better time to entice you with irresistible pictures of some decedent desserts, flooding your brain with promises of sugar and chocolate and other endless possibilities? "What if they run out?", the tantalizing pictures whisper... "Or if the kitchen closes? Go ahead, ask for that dessert now!" I admit, no better time than when you first look at that menu card :-) And oh - did I mention that they also have all the desserts displayed to make the Battle of Resistance a doomed venture from when you step into the restaurant? I bet the Old Man gets more (and larger) orders for desserts than your average restaurant :-)

My verdict: 5 out of 6 stars
Come on, it is a naughty (tho endearing) bit of Marketing "Come to me-e-e-e-e" cross-sell genius we're seeing here :-) So just to make sure I get my brownie (sugar-free, of course) points with St. Peter, I am holding back that last star. But I don't mind this evident attempt to get my (additional) business.

I do love that underlying philosophy - and as I see the harsh reality that this world is, I am so ready to order dessert while I know there's still some left! In fact when I ate there, I DID order the dessert along with my main course. And of course, I had to doggy-bag most of the dessert to bring home. For a repeat rendez-vous with the calories in the comfort of my favorite arm-chair... my feet up on one of the arms... my hair scrunched up in a pony-tail... socks warming my toes, and the dessert delivering that promise of sugar - mmmmmmmmmmmm!

Scissors not included - new Oreo packaging

I was never much of a snacker, so my rendez-vous with Oreo cookies was limited to watching my nephews savor every last crumb. And then, my little boy came along - and of course, the Oreo's :-)

When I first began buying Oreo's 2 years ago, they came in a flat plastic case, with the outer package/wrapping crimped at either end. So you had 2 options with the packaging:
- Cut it open fully on either end and transfer the cookies right away into an air-tight container; enjoy each cookie by daintily picking them out of the container when you needed one: that's the Martha Stewart option;

- Make a tiny opening on one side and wiggle your fingers in to get out the cookies you needed; store the cookies in the package they came in. Needless to say, this was the much-followed-Archita-option, practiced in my house :-). It kept the cookies (reasonably) fresh (i.e. they did not get damp/ soft). But it was a minor challenge and irritant to coax out the cookies without ripping off the packaging...

A few month's ago though I was about to cut open the low-fat Oreo's I bought, and noticed directions about using the flap at the top. There was a red "STOP" sign followed by directions: "Open with Pull Tab on top!"... I flipped the package and that's when I saw that our friends at Kraft had made a simple but brilliant change to the packaging: on the surface that had the logo and product name, they had added a re-sealable flap. Open the flap and you can reach the cookies right away. Keep it closed, and it's a pretty air-tight and non-Martha-Stewart-container. Snack 'n Seal, they called it.

My verdict: 6 out of 6 stars!!!
I don't know (or care) what it cost Kraft to add the flap - all I know is it my made life one, tiny bit simpler. And I don't remember paying anything more for the change - if I did, as L'Oreal would say, I'm worth it ;-)

I admit, this change only caters to the my type of person, with a 'pantry' that's a hodgepodge of mismatched containers and who can be wooed by a tiny convenience. I also admit that a sample drawn out of my own, immediate circle (my Mum and sister) would indicate that 2 out of 3 people might not value this change as much as I. But hey, that translates roughly to 1 out of 3 people being like me - a pretty good number for any marketer to chase, me thinks! Add to that the fact that kids can open it with equal ease (at least Kraft would say that's an advantage!) as well as any one who has trouble with fine motor skills (folks with arthritis) - the numbers are likely to be a bit higher.

As for me, the Target Audience - hey: scissors not included is, as Ms. Stewart would say, "A good thing" ;-) I totally appreciate the change and the new packaging gets 6 stars from me :-)

The Egg-scape

I remembered this interesting technique I saw quite a few years ago... this was back when I was a teen (I DID say quite a few years ago!). I was a helping my Mum in the kitchen and we were going to make Deem'r Daalna - a Bengali gastronomical delight of Eggs in a spicy sauce. You had to boil the eggs first, so I reached out to get some eggs. Back then, eggs were stored in square plastic cases, that held 12 eggs at a time. So I got the eggs out, balancing them precariously, when I noticed something on each egg. No, not yucky muck - it was actually something printed on the egg shells.

So I set down all but one egg and looked closer. What I saw made me smile and marvel at the idea :-) Printed in light blue, was the name of a local store, followed by a line announcing a Sale with x% off. This store carried every rainbow-colored-dream an Indian woman might wish to drape herself in - the Sari. And the Indian festival season was soon going to grip the whole country - a time when most folks make some fabulous and often annual additions to their wardrobes. So here was this store, delivering it's message - directly to the person it wished to woo - Women. Now don't get all 'equal opportunity' on me - the time I am referring to (and even today, by large) it is the woman who does most of the cooking in Indian kitchens).

My verdict: 5 out of 6 stars
I think this was a brilliant idea - and I wonder why we never saw more of this medium being used? Brilliant, because it was totally unique - up until 2000 (which is one I moved to the US), I never saw any sort of messaging on individual items meant for mass consumption. Also, it zeroed-in on the Target Audience with pin-point accuracy. The timing was perfect, thus compounding the impact of the message by delivering it at a relevant time (the annual Sale to coincide with the festival season). And BEST of all - the medium (the egg shells) are 100% biodegradable! Does not get better than that!

Few reasons why I am withholding the last star on this idea: I have no data on how cost-effective this technique might have been - you have to factor in the risk of breaking the shells while imprinting messages... Also, I have no idea if the dye used was safe for use on eggs - who knows if it permeated thru the shell and contaminated the eggs? Of course, we had no ill-effects from eating the Deem'r Daalna that day, but still... Another thing was the hue of the dye - it was hard to see against the white and did not pop the message right out at you (may be they used the light dye because it was safe to use on eggs??? Don't know).

Overall tho a simple, brilliant idea that will permanently stay in my mind!

Maria Sharapova and Canon

You know the commercial I am referring to? It was played over and over during the Wimbledon matches this year. Though I think I remember seeing it at other times too. You have Maria begging her pooch to pose, pretty please. And her dog keeps making these indignant remarks in French. Sorry, the French connection is lost on me, but then hey, I ain't Maria!

First - here's the verdict: 0.5* out of 6.

Here's why: Ms. Sharapova is completely unconvincing as she pleads with her dog. I REAEEEALY do not think acting is her thing. And the dog's attitude makes you wonder if the cat they had originally cast for the part called in sick and so they just substituted it with a dog?! I mean, how many dogs do you know who would not be all too happy to roll over if his human asked him to?! (I'm a dog-person, can you tell?)

So I tried to figure out WHO the ad was trying to talk to... and I was flummoxed... could not figure it out at all. Maria fans possibly? Well, I wonder what they'd be able to tell you about the product she's promoting (other than the generic "a camera" response)... May be owners of dogs who secretly wished they had a chat instead (no, no, that's not a typo - just a cat in French). I think that's a totally mythical psychograph... Tennis fans? I am from the Steffi-era and am only mildly interested in Tennis these days, but it irritates me to watch Ms. K trying to baby-talk her dog.... Nah, this is a totally forgettable ad! So I give it a 0.5/ 6 stars. The 0.5 is for the dog - hey, I AM a dog-lover :-)

Wal*Mart has a new logo

I never gave all that much thought to the Wal-Mart logo before I saw a news item this morning announcing the change. But when I think of the the (old) logo (Wal-pointy-5-sided-star-Mart), the "image" the see in my mind's eye is "stodgy". All upper-case, angular, in-your-face letters seem - well - stodgy... old-fashioned... Like something you'd see on one of those completely 'huh?' reports that a green screen application might spit out over REAMS and REAMS of paper - printed on a dot-matrix printer, going "Eeeee ee e ee eeeee e eeee ee eee . Eeeeee" (that's a line break), over and over and OVER again. You hear it, don't you?

Now, the new logo. It is supposed to convey an environmentally friendly image. Does it? Take a look. I definitely agree with the friendly part. Something about the mix of lower-and-upper case letters, along with the rounded font itself certainly makes me think of a friendly soul. And I like the blue (now wait a minute tho.... Is it just me, or does the type face and color not remind you of the MetLife logo? (and yes, Guilty as charged, I work for MetLife; but this is solely MY opinion)). Judge for yourself.

I'm not so sure about the sunburst tho. It sorta reminds me of the "poof!" illustration that goes with a fairy making something disappear. "Poof!" There goes the pumpkin. "Poof", there go the mice... Or a light being turned OFF, may be (the center, IMHO should have been yellow if the bulb was just turned ON). A windmill and thus more green - um - yellow - mayyyy be.... a flower though? Nah, I don't see it - I just don't... A few more "petals" might have done it perhaps? Or more petal-like thingys in the sunburst? The yellow thingy is too angular to look like a flower, me thinks... The sun, did you say? Well, why not a sunny yellow then? What's with the mango-colored sun???

My verdict: 3.5* out of 6
Here is what I factored in:
  1. Cost of the change ($$$ they must have paid someone to think this up + $$$ they'll have to spend to roll out the change)
  2. Objective of the change (the intended "environmentally friendly" message Mr. Scott would like to impart)
  3. Impact on my willingness to spend more $$$ at Wal-Mart (Zero change to my spending patterns)

Hmmmm... I give the new logo a 3.5/ 6 stars. What say you, fellow Target Audience?