The Luck Of The Scottish

This Foodie Friday, we have a fail to discuss. I’ve been trying to figure out if this is a demonstration of abject stupidity or just a stunt designed to make some viral noise. If it’s the latter, it’s a very dangerous game they’re playing over at McDonald’s. Yes, they’re on the screed again!
As St.Patrick’s Day approaches, McDonald’s decided to promote its Irish Shamrock Shake – a combination of chocolate and mint – in Ireland. They did so with a little video clip they released on their official Twitter page ahead of St Patrick’s day, targeting their Irish customers. You can click through here to see it. What’s amazing is the number of things whoever did this screwed up in so short a period of time. It’s equally amazing that they managed to do so and offend their target audience.

The clip shows a man “playing” a Shamrock Shake like a set of bagpipes and there are multiple straws inserted in the shake cup to give the appearance of same. In the background, scenes of the countryside click through. The clip features the word “instrumint”, a play on the drink’s minty taste. Clever, right? Wrong. The man is wearing a Scottish style hat, playing a Scottish instrument to the very Scottish-sounding soundtrack. One of the scenes is of Stonehenge, which is in England, not Ireland. In short, just about everything in the clip is from somewhere other than Ireland.

The lessons are pretty clear. First, whoever did this could not have been Irish. When you’re targeting a specific group – and a country is a group! – have someone who is intimately familiar with the culture, preferably a member of the target group itself, review the work. The history of marketing is littered with mistakes by people who were writing in a language whose nuances eluded them or for a group of which they have no more than a passing knowledge. My favorite, by the way, is the introduction of the Chevy Nova into Mexico under that name. “No va” is Spanish for “won’t go”, not the best name for a car.

But let’s suppose this was done on purpose. Maybe the creators of this were trying to have the ad go viral and figured they could do that by making it so wrong. That’s a very dangerous game since the hit to McDonald’s reputation has been pretty severe, even as the ad gets tons of earned media. Setting yourself on fire in the street will get you lots of attention but it’s a tactic you can only use once since the damage is serious and usually fatal.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the folks at Mickey D’s here on Foodie Friday and I thought that if I were to write about a drink that contains more calories than 4 Krispy Kreme donuts I’d do so on the basis of the chemical swamp it contains. Who would have thought that the ads could be worse than the drink itself?

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How To Cure A Headache

My introduction to the business side of media came when I was a teenager. My dad was a television rep who sold time to ad agencies. Broadcasting Magazine showed up every week and once in a while, he’d have a Nielsen book in his briefcase for me to peruse. From my perspective, the business seemed pretty simple. The seller and buyer agreed on a price based on how many people they thought might be watching and how narrowly defined the parameters were with respect to when the ad could run. In other words, they negotiated and measured based on ratings, rate, and rotation.

Drawing "THE CLUSTER HEADACHE" Subti...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I actually followed my father into the media business, not much had changed. Sure, the numbers were more demographically-based instead of on household counts, but the business was pretty much the 3 R’s. Not anymore. In fact, a recent study by ID Comms found that most advertisers see media as a complex headache. It is pretty overwhelming now, both from the perspective of available media options as well as the addition of digital channels such as social media. The fact that a huge percentage of media is now bought programmatically through systems that are often rife with fraud and lacking in transparency adds to the headache.

I don’t think it’s the complexity of the media world that’s causing the headache. I think it’s a misplaced emphasis on buying efficiency at the expense of both strategic thinking and measuring results on things other than easily-manipulated metrics such as CPM. If a campaign makes the cash register ring, it’s effective. If it doesn’t, what good is it to have delivered something useless in a highly-efficient manner?

I’ve spoken with friends on both the sales and buying side of the equation. There seems to be universal frustration but not much in the way of solutions. It really needs to come from the people who control the purses – the clients. They need to stop thinking about CPM’s as a measure of efficiency (at least when it comes to digital, anyway) and place a lot more emphasis on strategy. Is the register ringing? Is the phone? Are there more interactions on social even if the number of “likes” isn’t rising? Is there a buzz about your brand? Those are the modern metrics that are relevant in the long-term and that kind of thinking can cure a media headache many folks are now experiencing. You agree?

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My Totally Fake Life

I came across an article last week that I found disturbing. I don’t think it’s news to any of you there that it’s possible to buy fake followers on the various social media platforms. You can buy hundreds or thousands of “followers” on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook fairly cheaply. I had assumed that this was something that some (dumb) businesspeople did to make their metrics look better. More on that in a second. The article set me straight.

What it said was that researchers at:

Huron University College in Ontario, Canada, who surveyed around 450 participants ages 18-29 through an online polling platform, and found that 15% admitted to buying “likes” from Web sites for their Instagram profiles…25% of respondents said they engaged in digital plastic surgery before posting photos.

Yikes! I guess these people figure that by having large numbers of people following them on some platform that they appear to be more influential. The reality is exactly the opposite because it takes very little effort to figure out that those people are fakes. Running a Twitter handle through Twitter Audit showed me that some person who claimed his million plus followers as a reason to do business with his had, in fact, 96% fakes in that million. It’s ego gratification, the same reason why people lie about their age or their weight or name drop, and it makes for a serious level of insecurity. And yes, there are other tools for other platforms to help spot fakes.

The same can be said when we do this in our business profiles. Some warped social media person will buy likes to show the boss that they are becoming more popular and that the efforts they’re making to garner new followers are paying off. Of course, engagement rates will drop off to nothing (those fake names don’t interact), and in fact, could do your brand harm by becoming spammy through your account.

It’s a little frightening that many of us feel the need to live a totally fake life online. The study found that 31% of respondents said they edited out all the boring details to make their life seem more exciting, and 14% said they specifically craft their profile page to make it seem like their social life is much more active than it actually is. Maybe it’s possible that the people who are posting the most are actually living the least glamorous lives?

Maybe one benefit of getting older on a personal level is the realization that the only one with whom we’re competing is ourselves. More “stuff” – cars, clothes, or followers – can mean less happiness. On a business level, more can be great but fake never is. Your thoughts?

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It’s In Your Head

I want to spend a minute on the most basic food thing this Foodie Friday: taste. After all, no matter how well a dish looks or smells, ultimately it’s how it tastes that matters.

You probably know that we perceive 5 basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, savory, and sour. There are receptors on our tongues for each of those flavors and how those flavors interact along with things such as “mouth-feel” and smell create our overall impression of the dish. To a certain extent, the ability to accurately detect these flavors helps us survive. After all, most things that taste bitter aren’t great for you while most things that taste sweet won’t kill you (ok, too much sugar will, but sweet things generally contain energy and that helps us survive).

What you might not realize is that those sensors aren’t really how we taste. It isn’t until the brain gives meaning to what the sensors are perceiving that we taste. As you can see in the video below, it’s possible to rewire the brain so that bitter foods taste sweet or vice versa. Give it a watch – it’s under a minute:

What does this have to do with your business? We forget sometimes that it’s not until customers assign meaning to what we put out there that messages are delivered. People hear things differently from how we intend. For example, Snapchat put out filters that offended certain ethnicities. That certainly wasn’t their intention but their failure to get out of their own heads and into those of others caused a problem and a very public humiliation. We have to be open to looking at everything we put out there through the eyes of others and be willing to rewire the message just as the scientists rewired the brains in the videos.

A small personal experience with which to close. I went to a local moonshine distillery and sampled some of their product. It was a clear liquid and I thought it would taste like other clear spirits. Instead, it tasted much like Scotch, which makes sense since it was distilled from the same grains, despite the color. People routinely think highly of cheap wines placed in bottles from more expensive wines. We need to make sure that the sensors we stimulate with our messages convey the meanings we intend. Perception is reality and our intention needs to be aligned with our customers’ perception.

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Ignorance Is No Excuse

I don’t think any of us like being deceived unless we’re watching a magic show. It’s especially angering when you find out that what you believed to be a trusted source has told you something based on someone paying them to do so. You might be aware that several years ago the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued rules about the need to clearly label paid social media posts as ads so that consumers aren’t deceived by ads masquerading as content.

English: Fined Stamp text

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several companies have been fined as a result of failing to follow the rules. Lord & Tayor, for example, was fined because they paid 50 online fashion “influencers” to post Instagram pictures of themselves wearing the same paisley dress but failed to disclose they had given each influencer the dress, as well as thousands of dollars, in exchange for their endorsement. The folks at Warner Brothers were fined for failing to adequately disclose that it paid online influencers thousands of dollars to post positive gameplay videos on YouTube and social media. Over the course of the campaign, the sponsored videos were viewed more than 5.5 million times.

I bring this up because I saw a piece this morning headlined

Marketers ‘Unaware’ of FTC Social Media Guidelines Regulating Influencers

Only one in 10 know sponsored posts should be tagged as ads, study finds.

Seriously? These rules have been in place since 2009 and were updated in 2013. 60% of influencers – the people who are paid to put this stuff out there with their endorsement – are fully aware of the rules and do a good job of following them. The people paying them? Not so much.

But wait! There’s more! I found this especially perturbing:

A significant minority of influencers said it’s not uncommon for brands to ask them to hide the fact that their post is sponsored.

I’m not sure which is worse – ignorance of the rules or the willful violation of them. Either way, it’s really a problem. Ignorance of the rules is certainly no excuse. One could argue that consumers are sophisticated enough to understand that even traditional product reviews often came based on the product being made available to the reviewer for free. I think most folks assume that unless we’re into the realm of reviews posted by normal people on Amazon or Yelp or Trip Advisor, most “influencer” reviews or posts involve money changing hands. All celebrity endorsements do and seeing an athlete or actor endorsing a product, one can safely assume it’s an ad.

Maybe these marketers can shrug their shoulders and think of the fines as a cost of doing business. That’s short-sighted since the hit to their reputations is larger than the fine, whatever that fine may be. All of us need to know and follow the rules that are in place when it comes to paying people to promote our products. If we don’t the choice is to be labeled ignorant or sleazy, and neither is a great option. You agree?

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Learn To Shut Up

I don’t suppose it will be a great shock to any of you that there is new research out that shows marketers can be their own worst enemies. The study comes from Bridge Ratings and is entitled The Facebook Fatigue Dilemma. There is quite a bit in the study but the section I found of relevance to us today concerns why users unfriend or unlike a brand. Not surprisingly, it’s because they are being inundated with marketing messages, and while they can’t really control which ads they’re seeing (more about that in a second), they can control what pops up in their news feed by telling the brand to go away via unfriending.download

What they study shows, as reported by eMarketer, is “44% of respondents “unliked” a brand on the social media platform when the company posted too frequently. Likewise, 43% of those polled said they “unliked” brands because their Facebook walls became too crowded with marketing posts, forcing them to cut down on the number of brands that they follow.”

As marketers, we forget sometimes that our brilliant messages are not the only messages the consumer is seeing. While what we have to say is important both to us and the consumer (hopefully), we are just one of a thousand messages the consumer is seeing that day. We need to learn to shut up unless and until we have fresh content that’s relevant to the consumer.

Of course, we can also do a little educating. Going off on a tangent here, I’m convinced, based on my discussions with many Facebook users, that most people have no clue how to tune their Facebook feeds to serve them. I’ve yet to see any marketer run a campaign within Facebook helping users to use the platform (and to presumably keep your incredibly helpful posts front and center). Do you use the little drop-down tab in each and every news feed post to tune the stream? How about using lists to segment various things? Do you actively report your feelings about various ads to the Facebook algorithm to help make what you see more relevant?

Media isn’t a megaphone. Marketing isn’t a monologue. We need to learn to shut up until we really have something to say, don’t we?

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Foaming At the Mouth

This Foodie Friday, let’s talk about foams for a minute. Food foams, that is, and not the thick ones such as whipped cream, marshmallows, or even cake. I mean the foams that have come out of molecular gastronomy and are made out of mushrooms or parmesan cheese or just about anything else. Throw some stabilizing agent (agar, lecithin,etc.) into a liquid, grab the old immersion blender and voila: foam.

Let me give you two prominent cooks takes on them. The first is Gordon Ramsay:

If I want foam I will stick to my bubble bath after the end of a long week. Watching foam sit on a plate and 30 seconds later it starts to disintegrate and it starts to look like toxic scum on a stagnant pool of crap. I don’t want to eat foams. It’s not good.

Then there is Alton Brown‘s take:

Don’t think you can replace cooking technique with throwing a bunch of flavors on top of something. Any more than you can making it into a caviar. Or making it into a foam. If I live the rest of my culinary life without a seeing another foam, I’ll be OK. I’m sick to death of foam. What does foam do? Cover our bad cooking, by and large.

I must admit that I’m not particularly a fan of foams on my plate but I find the above two quotes of interest to us today because each also contains a business point. Chef Ramsay rightfully points out that when customers purchase a product they expect it to perform and endure. If you have kids, you know the experience of toys being destroyed by lunch time on Christmas. It’s almost as if the toy makers never put the thing into the hands of a 4-year-old to test endurance. But many of us have had the same experience with tech toys and other products. We need to build our products and services to last.

The second quote points out that customers aren’t easily distracted. A nicely flavored foam can’t hide a poorly cooked protein underneath it. It’s great that we design digital products and physical products to look nice but consumers value substance over style in the long run. Just as diners order the protein and not the foam, consumers are focused on the main promise the product is making and not on how pretty it is.

Foams add flavor without adding substance. I think we all need a lot more substance in this world. You?

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