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Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Don't Get It

I have so many questions about this ad.

  1. Does anyone else think Spicy Buffalo Wheat Thins sound gross?
  2. Aren't Wheat Thins supposed to be the "healthier" snack cracker? Baked, not fried? Doesn't adding a Buffalo Wing flavor detract from that?
  3. Why are the gerbils in little plastic bubbles on the floor? Doesn't that seem like a lot of work? Wouldn't you have to take each gerbil out of the bubble to clean the bubbles and feed the gerbils?
  4. What do gerbils in plastic bubbles have to do with snack crackers?
  5. Why is Tracy Morgan in footy pajamas?
  6. Why do they make footy pajamas for adults? It's really not a good look for grown folks.
  7. How much do you think they paid Tracy Morgan to go along with this?
  8. Do you think he secretly goes home to his tasteful condo or house, sits in his well-equipped library, and reads The Wealth of Nations, like Stringer Bell?
  9. What is that snake doing there? (I closed my eyes when I saw it. I'm phobic.)
  10. Are the gerbils in the bubbles so the snake doesn't eat them?
  11. Was anyone else legitimately curious about what Tracy Morgan would write in his memoirs?
  12. Was that a disco ball in the background?
  13. Are Wheat Thins supposed to make it cool to do all the weird things Tracy was planning, or what?
The best ads make you go "That's funny/clever/cool/original." The worst ones make you go "Weh?" This is one of the latter. Even the comments on the ad mention Tracy, the gerbils, and the snake far more than Wheat Thins (as of this writing). To be fair, I think all rodents are gross so this is clearly not the ad for me, but still. The message seems to be "Wheat Thins make you act weird." It seems like Wheat Thins are trying to give their brand a cool boost by throwing Tracy Morgan and oddness and random "edgy" flavors into the mix, but I don't know that Wheat Thins needed a cool boost. Aside from Saltines, Wheat Thins are the most basic cracker I can think of. And that's fine! They still taste pretty good! (I like Triscuits better.) This ad just makes them look like the oddball's cracker. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Cost of Social Media

I wrote this blog for the Philadelphia chapter of the American Marketing Association's website. Check it out there and take a spin around the site while you're at it!

The Philadelphia Chapter of the American Marketing Association’s recent Social Media Boot Camp is a great example of how marketers can learn about the most effective social media channels for their business, how to measure social media and how to put together a social media plan. Social media can be a valuable part of any marketing campaign.

But, like everything, it comes with a cost to implement. While initiating a Twitter account and Facebook page are free, there’s more to consider besides just waiting for the hits to arrive to your newly established pages. Here are some costs that marketers must take into account:

  • Salary and Time. If you can swing it, you may want to have a salaried person on staff who is solely responsible for managing social media. Or you could outsource your social media campaign. If you don’t, you’ll have to delegate the responsibility to your existing staff, which takes time.
  • Advertising. You’ll need to drive people to Facebook and/or Twitter through email blasts, “like” or “follow” buttons on your company’s website or targeted ad placement on Facebook.
  • Tracking. It’s wise to make sure your social media plan is working. To keep tracking costs down, make sure you’re only tracking information that’s valuable to you. You can just track a few metrics each week or month, such as economic value, which can be measured by the amount of traffic each social media channel refers to your website, the behavior of social media visitors on your site, and the number of social media visitors who exhibit specific behavior (buy, subscribe, take a survey, etc.). You can manage the tracking of multiple social media sites from services like Hootsuite, among others.

A more comprehensive breakdown of social media costs in 2012 can be found here from our friends at You won’t necessarily use all of these components, but it’s a very clearly delineated budget breakdown of how much things can potentially cost.

Social media is customizable! Make sure you’re tailoring it to fit your specific needs, particularly if your budget is tight.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Girls Causes a Scandal

There are two new TV series that have brought diversity in television to the public’s conscience. (It’s always on my mind, as a person of color who loves media.) ABC’s Scandal and HBO’s Girls have people talking about people of color, or lack thereof, on TV.  

Shonda Rhimes, the creator, head writer, and executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, created Scandal with Kerry Washington in the lead role and based on the career of Judy Smith, a DC crisis management consultant. The show is the first network TV drama with a Black female lead in 30 years; the last one was Get Christie Love, which I’ve never heard of – it was apparently the story of a black female cop that also aired on ABC during the Blaxploitation heyday.

Oh sure, there are black women on TV; VH1 seems to have become the “ignorant quick-tempered black women with nothing to do but throw glasses at each other” channel, with Basketball Wives, Love & Hip-Hop, and all the “let’s help Flavor Flav find love” shows and their spinoffs. WeTV features Braxton Family Values, a reality show about Toni Braxton and her sisters. Bravo has The Real Housewives of Atlanta, all but one of whom is black. Black supporting characters abound. But a prime-time drama about a professional woman who is great at her job? Those are all led by white women. Fair or not, Kerry Washington has a lot of responsibility here. The marketing for the show didn’t focus on the race aspect at all, although the show did get a ton of marketing – but it was all about “From creator Shonda Rhimes …” And I can respect that. While I can’t stand Grey’s Anatomy and think Private Practice has gone way downhill, I have immense respect for Rhimes’s career. She’s an important woman.

So too is Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope. The entire first episode is dedicated to explaining how great she is at her job. The President and his cabinet bow down to her. Everyone who mentions her name follows it up with “she’s the best,” “her gut is never wrong,” etc. I like Kerry Washington (it took some doing but I have forgiven her, Anthony Mackie, and Spike Lee for She Hate Me, which is one of the worst movies I have ever seen) and she brings a quiet confidence to the role.

The cast as a whole is racially diverse. The show doesn’t fall into the Friends trap of never even showing people of color anywhere in a major urban center, and thank God for that. (More on this in a sec.) Guillermo Diaz and Columbus Short are both part of Olivia’s crisis management team. Olivia’s (married with kids) love interest is Fitzgerald Grant, the President of the United States in this fictional world played by Tony Goldwyn; Olivia was a high-ranking member of his campaign team and they began an affair that she broke off … but they’re still madly in love. He told his chief of staff that she’s the “love of [his] life.”

From what I’ve seen of Shonda Rhimes’s shows, she practices colorblind casting and doesn’t make a point of mentioning race at all. Many of the main characters on her shows are or have been in interracial relationships; when Private Practice’s Addison is delivering a baby on the show, half the time the couples are interracial – and not just black/white either. People of color are a part of the world that Shonda Rhimes chooses to depict, but she doesn’t choose to actively call them out.

Conversely, Girls depicts a world where no people of color exist at all.

To be fair, only one episode of Girls has aired. But from what I’ve seen and read (Racialicious posted some casting calls and they’re all stereotypes – the overweight Jamaican nanny, the sexy South American nanny, etc.), the show is one of many that ignores people of color except to depict them as stereotypes. At the end of the pilot, protagonist Hannah walks down the street looking sad (her parents have just told her that her TWO-YEAR run on their tab is up and she’ll need to start supporting herself). A black man who appears to be homeless appears out of nowhere and tells her to smile and say “I love New York!” It screams Magical Negro. The only other person of color is a young Asian woman who has the job Hannah wants; she’s quiet, wears Buddy Holly glasses, and that’s all we know about her (and since Hannah no longer works with her, I doubt she'll be seen again).

The show’s creator and star, Lena Dunham, told the Huffington Post that she’d like to see more people of color, and if they get a second season, she’ll add some in. Which, real talk, reads to me like “I didn’t give people of color a thought until I got called out about it, and now that I have, I’ll deal with it.” And that bugs me.

I spent my college years and 20s in New York City. The world Lena Dunham grew up in is not too different from mine, although I’m a few years older than she is; she and I are both products of urban independent schools and top-tier universities. I saw people of color every day at my high school and my university, and later in business school. We were the minority, sure, but we were there. In my time in New York, I of course didn’t visit every block in every neighborhood, but I saw people that looked like me every single day. On the subway. On the block. At work. In class. At the grocery store. Shopping. At bars. At the gym. The four main characters on Girls are white, which I don’t really have an issue with (it’s not my experience – my friends look like a Benetton ad – but homogeneous groups of friends do exist), but homogeneous New York City doesn’t. Even if you only know one race of people socially, you simply cannot go through your day living in New York City and only see white people. Even on Gossip Girl’s Upper East Side, and especially in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where the Girls live. (My mother and her parents are from Brooklyn and my great-grandparents on that side came to Brooklyn in the '20s from Trinidad; I know black people live there.) You might only notice white people, or choose to only associate with white people, but that’s not the same thing.

And on a deeper level, the show is about four privileged young women (which is interesting since the actresses who play them are all very privileged – each of them is the daughter of someone famous); they all are college-educated, with parents who can afford to support and/or indulge them. People of color like this exist. Not all people of color come from humble backgrounds. The struggles of trying to make something of yourself in your early – mid 20s, even if you have generous financial support, are not just white struggles.

And both Scandal and Girls have a lot riding on them. If Scandal succeeds, it’ll show the media world that people will watch a show with a black female lead, and hopefully inspire them to make more such shows. If Girls succeeds, more shows like it will get made … which further alienates people of color, because “more shows like it” means more shows that exclude people of color.

I don’t know what the solution is. The media world doesn’t bow to my whims, sadly; I can’t force them to hire more people of color as writers and showrunners. But I can, and will, bring issues like this to the forefront in my corner of the world, and encourage people I know to think critically about what they watch.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mike and Ike Broke Up

So, Mike and Ike are apparently dunzo.

The next time you buy a bag of Mike and Ikes, one of the names on the bag will be crossed out. Mike “spends way too much time on his music,” and Ike “spends too much time on graffiti art.” The campaign is supposed to last for a year, after which reconciliation will be revealed – or not.

The packages direct consumers to the Mike and Ike Facebook page, which tells the story, such as it is, of the split (it just says they couldn’t agree about their vision for the candy, so Mike is pursuing music and Ike wants to be an artist). The best section is the employee video section (Gloria in Operations, call me: “I’m gonna miss Mike. Ike … not so much.” Awesome); the celebrity response video is pretty lackluster, and the celebs featured aren’t really household names, at least to me (except for Lamar Odom. Random!). You can also enter a “reaction contest” where you submit your reaction to the split. There’s also a Tumblr, where you can see Ike’s art and read blog posts from both, and it’s a trending topic on Twitter.

This is a clever marketing strategy. In real life there’s no actual Mike or Ike, and this humanizes the brand a bit. I have eaten many Mike and Ike candies in my life, and I have never once given a thought to the back story of the brand – because there was no back story in place, or any mention of one. M&Ms aren’t real either, but the animated versions humanize them and make them fun. And because we still don’t really know who Mike and Ike are – their ages, what they look like, etc. – we can project. (In my head, Mike looks like Theo Spielberg and Ike looks like the lead singer of The Fray. I don’t know.)

The key will be keeping interest alive for a year. Mike and Ikes are … not a very interesting candy, as fruit-flavored candies go. They have longevity on their side – they’ve been around forever – but it’s rare to hear someone say “I could really go for some Mike and Ikes right now.” So it’ll have to be the kind of campaign that ramps up and gradually builds interest, as opposed to mystery. The Hunger Games can just reveal casting tidbits every few months (who will play Finnick?) because the books exist and people already know the stories, but since there IS no back story for Mike and Ike, it’s the job of the marketers to create one – moreso than “they had creative differences.”

By the tone of the blogs, it appears that Mike and Ike are supposed to be young … but they kind of read like someone is trying hard to sound young. “Sick music festivals, dope new songs … even though I’m off rocking and rapping …” it just sounds stilted to me, and I think most teenage consumers will see through it. So the writing will be key.

I don’t know that I’ll follow this campaign day to day, but I might check back in every so often to see what Mike and Ike are up to.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How The Hunger Games Got Marketing Right

I saw The Hunger Games on opening night and I bought my ticket a month in advance.

This is the only “young adult book franchise that became a huge movie franchise” I’ve indulged in. I actively dislike Twilight and have no opinion on Harry Potter (other than thinking it’s very cool that J.K. Rowling was on the dole, writing in longhand, at first and is now a many-times-over millionaire) – I just never got into it. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series  and saw the American movie but that’s very much geared toward adults. But friends recommended The Hunger Games and we feel similarly about Twilight and Harry Potter, so I decided to give it a shot. I read the first book in one sitting. (I’m a fast reader.) I took two days each to read the second and third. When I found out Jennifer Lawrence was to play Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the series, I was even more on board – her performance in Winter’s Bone was brilliant, and she’s on my “one to watch” list. (If I’d had my way, that movie would have won the Oscar, but I’m not in the Academy.)

It made $152.5M its opening weekend, the third-highest debut of all time, behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows 2 and The Dark Knight. And both of these are established brands – the former is the eighth installment in the Harry Potter franchise, so of course it had built a lot of goodwill among fans, and the latter, while a stand-alone movie, has the benefit of decades of Batman brand-building. The Hunger Games is a new brand (the book came out in 2008).

The movie would have been a success anyway, I think. People love the books, and they have the added benefit of appealing to adults and men in particular, which Twilight lacks. Nearly 10 million copies were in print when buzz for the movie began (a figure that has since doubled, so the movie is increasing book sales, which is to be expected). But I think the marketing for this was stellar. The movie had a $45M marketing budget, which is about half the size of a larger studio’s budget for a blockbuster. The campaign began in the spring of 2009, starting with tidbits about casting that were released via Facebook. The campaign was very internet-heavy (although it did use print – it seems like every popular magazine had a special Hunger Games edition – and outdoor ads and sweepstakes), which is to be expected in the 2012 landscape – but the trick with the web is that you’re actually trying to get your audience to convince more of your audience to see your movie. And it worked.

The other potential issue with this franchise is that while adults love it, it’s intended for kids. The movies are violent, but they simply must have PG-13 ratings, otherwise the franchise shoots itself in the foot by alienating its target audience. (There's no sex or swearing, which helps because all the objectionable content is reserved for violence.) And the subject matter is very bleak – kids killing kids, people regularly starving to death due to the rigid, brutal rule of the Capitol – and Lion’s Gate had to figure out a way to market this very bleak material to tweens and teens.  And they simply left it out. There’s no mention of the games themselves. The posters of the kids, all but (spoiler!) two of whom are going die, many of whom are going to die violently, just show them in profile shots, not in combat. A cop-out tagline would have been “Let the Games Begin”; that tagline was straight-up banned from the campaign. Everyone knows the plot of the books because it's so controversial (conversely, I think this is what doomed John Carter - I have no idea what that movie was about based on the trailers, so the marketing needed to explain it), so the studio didn't need to focus too intently on explaining it. 

Fans got their first sneak peek of the movie on in August, and it included a Twitter feed that directed people to the Capitol’s website , which allows visitors to create Capitol ID tags (and as of this writing, also allows them to purchase tickets and read reviews). The internet allows both instant gratification and a long-term strategy – you can parcel out information piece by piece, and in doing so you give people one more thing to look forward to. (I've read that there was a very detailed, day-to-day marketing calendar in use.) It’ll go on until the DVD comes out and then start anew for Catching Fire, the second installment in the franchise due in theaters in November 2013.

This is hugely effective. At the theater at which I saw the movie, it was an event. People - adults! - were wearing costumes. My viewing partner and I got there 45 minutes early, tickets in hand, and still had to wait in a long line just to get into the theater. My Facebook feed was abuzz with people talking about when they planned to see the movie, what they thought of the movie, how they'd changed their minds about casting decisions. I'm almost as excited to see how Lion's Gate handles the marketing for Catching Fire as I am to see the movie itself. (The violence in that one involves adults as well as kids, so I'll be curious to see if they allow violent imagery into their campaign.) It was crisply executed and creative at the same time - something to aspire to.