Marketing Genius from Maple Creative

Marketing tips, observations & philosophy, plus a few rants and random musings - from those who practice, preach and teach marketing, research, advertising, public relations and business strategy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Great Ads #1 - Mack's Earplugs

This is the first in a series of "Great Ads" that we'll be bringing to you periodically. Advertising is but one aspect of marketing. But it is one of the more visual forms of marketing. By examining and studying great ads, we think that we can all learn more about marketing ... adding to the collective marketing genius!

The ad from Mack's shown above appeared in Newsweek, May 30, 2005 edition. Is it promoting ear plugs ... or peace of mind? The ad presents the promise of a restful night's sleep for the spouse of someone who snores. Prior to encountering this print ad in a magazine, I had never seen or heard of Mack's earplugs, despite the fact that the product has been around since 1962.

What's great about this ad? Several things.

First, there is the image. It is unique, cute and playful. I hope that all of you can relate to a snuggly cuddle in a warm, cozy bed. Doesn't that down comforter look inviting! The black & white photo makes the whole concept more abstract ... less specific, so that each of us can adapt it to fit our own life situation more readily. (Plus - feet probably look better in a fuzzy B&W photo than in sharp color.)

The headline is hard to miss. It is a quotation, a testimonial from a man in Annapolis, Maryland. "You saved my marriage," that is a pretty powerful headline. In the Rosser Reeves vernacular, the unique selling proposition (or USP) of this product is a happier marriage.

Cover up the thumbnail sized photo of the product package. Now, look at the ad again. It's hard to tell what the Mack's product is, minus the product shot. That one element is a nice addition to the ad.

I really like the line in the footer of the ad: "Saving snore ravaged relationships since 1962." Makes me smile. That connected with me.

The whole ad is folksy and inviting - in a very clever way.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Why Kids Rule The World

Because they drive purchasing behavior.

I needed paint for our kitchen (the cabinets we were looking at are just too expensive for our budget right now) and my children walked down the paint aisle with me.

Suddenly, they were carrying around paint swatches with cartoon characters on them.

"Daddy, look. I want to paint my room Blue's Clues Blue."

Man, Lowe's, give me a break, I just painted their rooms last year.

The color swatches my children were carrying around had some of their favorite cartoon characters on them, and they were more than happy to recommend that I continue my weekend project of repainting our kitchen, all the way up to their room.

The kicker - especially if you have read some of my other posts - the characters are from Noggin.

Keep in mind, we keep our children pretty isolated from commercial television and they still can't hide from the Branding monster.

Just look around - kids influence food, entertainment and now, home improvement purchasing decisions.

Keep them in mind as you build your marketing strategies because their buying power is growing.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Kmart Has a New Fan

That would be me, the new fan of Kmart. I went in for one item -- a casual tank top I'd seen on a friend which I knew would work with a skirt I had nothing match -- and I was in the store for over two hours!

For now, let's talk about Kmart's clothing. They have a couple of brands that I'm pretty impressed with: Attention is geared right to women my age, with suits, blouses and slacks that have a modern, sexy edge; then, there's Route 66 which is good for casual and dress casual. The Thalia Sodi line has a few key pieces that a youngish businesswoman might use, but is simply dead-on with the looks I've been seeing on high school seniors and college freshmen.

So, at Kmart I tried on clothes from these lines. Some pieces were OK, but few made the cut. Not much different than the usual trying-on experience -- except that it was soooo hot in the fitting room that I could hardly stand it. Strategery! I went to the snack bar (right next to the fitting rooms), chugged a Diet Pepsi, got my free refill and continued on with my shopping. I'm not going to get started on the Martha Stewart Everyday brand right now, except to say I really like it.

The point is that I remember a time, as a teenager, when my mom would stop by Kmart and my sister and I would sit in the car -- heaven forbid someone would see us shopping in there. But now, I'm rocking some Kmart threads and I'm telling everyone about it.

Bootstrap Marketing

I'm working with a great bunch of marketing and PR professionals from the world of non-profit organizations today. Here in Charleston, we're wrapping up the 2nd day of a two-day workshop.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005's not just Freud and couches.

When I say the word "psychology," what comes to mind? For most people, it is probably an image of a person lying on a couch telling a therapist their life story. Or maybe its a vision of Sigmund Freud saying that our desires and wishes can be revealed through dream analysis. Although these things are a part of psychology, they are a very,very small part. Psychology is so much more! Psychology is defined as the science of behavior and mental processes, so in other words why do people think or act the way they do.

Based on that definition, I would think anyone who's in marketing, advertising, or public relation would be interested in psychology. What factors will make my product/service attractive to the public? When speaking to a crowd, what makes me appear credible? Psychology fits hand in hand with marketing! Here is an example from Elliot Aronson's book The Social Animal, "Compared to opinions, attitudes are extremely difficult to change...In order to understand how to change attitudes, first it is essential to understand the complexities of human thinking as well as the motives that lead people to resist change." Read the book, you'll be surprised how informational and interesting it is.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Look Closer, Closer. There's another design elem...

How often do you study brand logos? I guess the folks at Maple including myself do it for a living. I recently got into a scuffle with one of our graphic designers about a hidden element in a well-known corporate logo, FedEx. She had claimed that the logo contained an arrow in it. I of course bet the farm that no arrow was present and she was out of her mind. Most of these conversations took place after work hours when I was driving around town and I saw FedEx trucks. I studied and studied the fonts and colors and found nothing.

A few days after the initial argument, she pointed out the obvious. It was right in front of my face all along and I couldn't see it.

I told me wife about it as well and she argued with me until she was blue in the face. Once I unveiled it to her she thought the designers did it by accident. I of course disagreed.

I have asked many people I know including FedEx employees and most don't know it exists.

The moral of the story is there is usually more than meets the eye in design elements today. Look closer and you will find them.

P.S. The closer thing is a Star Wars and South Park rip off.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Lowe's Knows

I live in an older home. It was built in 1938.

Our kitchen was last updated in the 1970's.

The cabinets are a little worn, the counter is pretty dated (we have wanted to replace it since we moved in) and our appliances aren't in the best shape either.

The time is coming when we'll have to bite the bullet and really remodel the kitchen.

We went to Lowe's to begin the process of determining how much ($$$$) the project was going to cost.

We picked up a cabinet catalog, looked at a variety of options in the store and was assisted by very helpful sales people. Keep in mind we aren't ready to buy today. I was actually surprised at the lack of sales pressure the associate put on us.

My wife and I picked the cabinet style we liked, the counter top brand and the features we wanted in our new dream kitchen.

I went back to Lowe's and shared the measurements and specifics with Tom, our salesperson.

In twenty minutes, he printed out a CAD drawing of what my new kitchen would look like from three different angles. This was a line drawing, but it still was impressive. Wow!

Again, we aren't ready to buy today (especially after we realized we picked the most expensive cabinets in the book) but the picture was so compelling. I could see what my new kitchen was actually going to look like.

A week later, I received a mailing from Lowe's offering 6 months, no payments, no interest, etc. with the opportunity to go online to a specialized Web site made just for me that showed our kitchen in color.

On the cover of the mailing was the cabinets that we picked in the store.

Although I didn't purchase this week, I can only imagine the return they are receiving from these efforts. They show me my kitchen, redone in a variety of media with a financing option that is pretty hard to pass up.

Customized marketing - customized kitchen - Marketing Genius Kudos to Lowe's.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Marketing Genius Adds Maple Bloggers

I am pleased and proud to welcome several new contributors to the Marketing Genius blog. All are colleagues of mine from Maple Creative. So please join me in welcoming the following "Mapleonians" to the blogosphere:

Michael Haid (our CEO) - look for insights on Lance Armstrong, outdoor recreation, corporate America and marketing!

Kim Gayton (VP - Creative Services) - look for compelling observations on graphic design, art, fashion & style plus other clever material from our resident design maven!

Lora White (Administration & Media Specialist) - our resident fashionista and pop-culture expert promises to provide us with the newest, latest and greatest trends!

Emily Woodson (Client Services) - Emily returns to our band of bloggers and promises cool content on technology, e-business, marketing and pop culture!

Jennifer Doak (Client Services) - the newest member of our team, fresh from a stint in sports marketing ... and a degree minor in psychology, will provide fresh, new insights in those and other areas of the marketing world!

Finally, I would like to recognize and acknowledge James Nester (VP - Client Services) for spearheading the charge to expand our cast of contributors. [Thanks, Jim!] Jim is our resident humorist, media guru, grassroots maven and sports enthusiast. You've seen his past thoughts on sports-branding. Rumor has it that he's working on a new post concerning the brand (or lack thereof) that is Major League Baseball.

In short, we are engaging more brains, more talent and more writers in order to bring you, our loyal readers more content and new, fresh perspectives. Personally, I cannot wait to see what's coming!

Saturn Adds to Employee Pricing Incentive

This cogent observation provided by our friend and client, Jennifer Wagner, of the Wellspring Center in St. Albans, WV.

Have you seen the new Saturn ad with the new “Total Value Promise”? They are stating that a lower price, great value, ONSTAR protection, and more are offered with their new 2006 models and they are still offering the Employee Pricing on 2005 models. I guess this is their way of getting away from the “employee pricing” program. They focus on the value of the purchase and mention the lower price almost like an “added” bonus. I think this is a good way of getting away from the program and still bringing the “value/quality” back into the purchase rather than just the price.

Thought you might be interested since you had several posts about the Employee Pricing on the blog.

Jennifer is also a talented blogger. Be sure to check out her blog, "On the Porch Swing," which is listed in our Blogroll (right-hand column)! [Or simply click here.]

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Shifting Competitive Landscape in Accounting

One of our wonderful clients is the accounting firm of Simpson & Osborne. They are a member of the BDO Seidman Alliance, which is noted in the news clip below. [Link to Simpson & Osborne]

In the accounting industry it appears that a shift is occurring. BDO seems to be leading the way. Is there a common thread across all professional service firms? Are the competitive cirucumstances such that the "little guys" (who are more nimble and more cost-effective) are in a position to routinely and soundly knock off the "big guys?"

Cheaper, more attentive second-tier firms are scoring clients off the Big 4. According to proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis & Co., 238 companies with more than $100 million revenue switched auditors in 2004, up from 115 in 2003. The winners have been the second-tier firms. According to Glass Lewis, BDO Seidman gained 71 new clients in 2004, after factoring in gains and defections. Grant Thornton, McGladrey & Pullen and Crowe Chizek gained 46 such clients combined. The trend continues, according to GT's own statistics. It led all U.S. firms in new SEC audit work for the first six months of 2005, picking up 50 new SEC audit clients.

Read the BusinessWeek article at:

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

From Viewer to Doer - The Activation Shift

From McKinsey & Company today -- viewers who interact with a TV show using their cell phones are more likely to be repeat viewers. Makes sense to me. The shows that get viewers to provide input (think of American Idol), often via text message, have in marketing terms activated their audience. Activation occurs when a source or a sender motivates the recipient to go beyond the status of passive viewer/visitor to active participant. [article excerpt]
Simply put, the shift is from viewer to doer.

When I watch something, you have my eyeballs and at least a portion of my attention. When you ask for my opinion or my input, now you have my brain ... and you have a much greater chance of winning my heart.

The study goes on to report that these same activated viewers are also more likely to recommend such programs to their friends (i.e., initiate referrals) and to purchase related merchandise.

Examples of the power of activation abound in the world of sports. NASCAR fans are among the most brand-loyal customers in the world. ESPN, and NASCAR too, invite us to dine at their cafes ... wear their apparel ... and have up-to-the-minute insider information delivered to our cell phones or wireless-enabled PDAs. Once a customer has been activated, they will almost eat, sleep and breathe the culture of the brand.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hey Noggin - nice cross media promotion

Saturday, my children wanted to use the"puter" (computer) and visit their favorite site besides Sesame Street: Noggin.

We booted up the machine, got them all situated on our bedroom floor (we have wireless in my house) and 30 seconds after they were online - they asked us to turn on the show Little Bear on Noggin.

Now, I'm like any other child's parent, I know my children are intelligent, but when did our four year old memorize the programming schedule?

Well, I looked down at the computer and right there in the upper corner of the screen was a "what's on Noggin" now space and Little Bear was looking right at me.

Here's why this is such a marketing genius move: Noggin is driving my kids back and forth between media. I think their hope is that when they are finished with the Web site, they go to the channel. And, in case you haven't guessed, there are promos all over the TV channel Noggin to drive them up to the Web.

The saving grace in all of this is that I as a parent believe in 90% of the content that Noggin puts out there for my kids to consume. It is a pretty safe place, that I don't have to be aware of every commercial message, every second, of every show.

So, my purpose in bringing this up is not one of "hey, stop manipulating my kids!"

The purpose is to recognize that they get how media is used and they are driving audience from one to the other. By doing that they keep my kids off of PBS sometimes and add value for their franchise and their advertising supporters.

Marketing with Air Conditioning

As I mentioned before, it was HOT as Busch Gardens.

An interesting thing happened as we walked by a shop that had freezing air blowing out the door.

We walked right in! What did we walk out with? Ice cream and a water, for all five of us.

We hadn't decided to eat. No one had asked for ice cream. We didn't even know we were thirsty.

We were cooler after the experience, and the ice cream was delicious, but they wouldn't have sold us on it just then unless the air conditioning pulled us into the store.

My point: sometimes there are things that attract customers to you, your service and your company. It may not be a sign, an advertisement - but again something as simple as a cool breeze could pull a customer into your business.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Furniture Chain Co-Opts the Employee Pricing Promo

It was bound to happen. Really, it was.

First, it was GM with its sales promotion (aka, price war) in which everyone gets the special employee-discount pricing. Then, Chrysler and Ford glommed onto the concept, as previously noted here.

This weekend, a regional furniture and appliance superstore chain announced its very own "Employee Discount" special. "You pay what we pay," touts the Big Sandy advertising campaign.

One thing that irks me is that this is totally lacking in originality. Hmmm, let's see. If automakers are offering employee pricing, maybe we should, too, since we're in the furniture and appliance business!

To make matters worse, this company already owned the market position of low-price leader. What can Big Sandy possibly hope to accomplish by futher slashing its already-low prices?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Women Rock!

I absolutely adore women. I value them. I respect them. I embrace them.

In my world of marketing, women are a major, driving force. They influence or control 80% or more of the purchasing and buying decisions in retail purchasing. Women hold 51.3% of the personal wealth in the U.S. Women are responsible for 70% of the new business start-ups over the past decade. Women rock!

Many of my close friends are women. I talk to my Mom almost every day. I helped to create a little woman who is 37" tall and 38 pounds strong. I am married to a wonderful, amazing, loving woman. Women rock ... and I love it!!

If you are in marketing, it is time to reach out and embrace women in your communications, in your design, in your distribution, in your advertising and in your product development.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

More on New Car Sales Offers

On the heels of this summer's wave of "Employee Pricing" programs, I have become sensitized to what the automakers and car dealers are doing to compete. Here in Charleston, West Virginia a local Chevrolet dealer is offering the following:

Employee Pricing Plus Tires for Life!

Would this get your attention?

To me, the need to purchase new tires always seems to hit at an inopportune time. I'm cruising along paying bills and managing the household finances, when boom! We need new tires. Ouch - that's going to cost $500 or more. Ouch!

Perhaps if a car dealership agreed to provide me with new tires for free every time that I needed them, it might make the difference. What do you think?

Wrong Way to Get Your News in Print

A new business magazine debuted in Charleston, West Virginia this week. It is called WV Inc., and it's modeled around Inc. magazine (which I love, by the way). The local mag was a success, pretty much the consensus opinion. Legions of skeptics and doubters were watching closely. So, kudos to Jack Bailey, Mike Stuart and company on a successful launch!

In the magazine, I read a story about "How to Get Your Story Covered in the Media." The author got it all wrong, in my opinion. As I read it, I was literally shouting things like "no way" and "he's got to be kidding."

The problem with the article is that it laid out the old way of dealing with the media. The old way is a numbers game. You pitch lots of stories, sending out tons of press releases, making tons of follow-up calls and using pressure tactics to "close" reporters on covering your stories.

This is wrong for two reasons. First, it doesn't work. And second, it is horribly laborious. I guess if you are billing by the hour, it makes sense to rack up hours of work, with little regard for effectiveness. You pitch 50 stories in the hope that 3 or 4 get picked up by the media.

That is not what my clients want. They want results, not activity.

The way we work: we pitch 5 stories and get 4 or 5 picked up by the media. If you want to know more about our media relations approach, read here and here.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

WebMarket Central's Underemployed Sr. Mktg. Guy

Tom Pick and company at WebMarket Central have some good stuff coooking at their portal site for marketing professionals. The editorial coverage is aligned around online marketing and e-commerce. The portal also provides support tools for marketing professionals, such as reviews of marketing and business books, a how-to guide on search engine optimization and industry news. WebMarket Central is striving to find, assemble and present the best of online marketing--in one convenient place. So far, in my estimation, they've done that ... and then some. The portal also contains a state-by-state listing of advertising and PR agencies that are adept at Web work. [We are pleased and flattered to be part of that esteemed group!]

They also have an up & coming blog, which covers related topics. The blog is located at

And oh, by the way, Tom Pick has adopted the positioning statement: "underemployed senior marketing guy." He lists it next to his actual title, "director of marketing & development," in correspondence. Underemployed senior marketing guy ... that one certainly grabbed my attention! Very clever.

Up for Grabs: Green Petroleum Company

Recently, the idea that the world is truly running out of oil has hit home with me. I'm not sure if this is related to the fact that I am almost 40 years old, or the fact that we haven't seen gas prices below $2.00 per gallon in longer than I can remember. Plus, I have seen the economic rise of China ... and its concurrent rise in petroleum consumption. Regardless, I now believe this to be true: we are running out of oil. And this shift in thinking has begun to influence the way that I view the world, as well as my behavior. For example, we just traded one of our V8 cars for a V6.

It is interesting to see how the major petroleum companies are racing to claim the position in the market of "The Green" brand. From the perspective of the gasoline producers, I think that "going for the green" is a smart strategy in today's global economy. Wouldn't it be smart for one of the major refiners to say, "We care the most about saving energy and producing the world's most efficient fuels." Or what if they could say, "We produce the cleanest burning gasoline fuels in the world?"

This Spring and Summer I have seen several TV spots from BP, in which an interviewer is speaking to people on the street (mostly women, in the spots that I have seen). They are talking to them about their energy and conservation concerns. BP is attempting to "own" the conversation about energy and protecting the environment.

Now, here's a quick scan of the Web space:

Exxon - nothing Green on its homepage. They don't seem to get it. Still trying to sell me the tiger and more power.

Chevron - leads with this headling on its homepage: "It took 125 years to use the first trillion barrels of oil. We'll use the next trillion in 30." Nice! They definitely get it. The direct, conversational tone of the copy is superb, such as this excerpt: "Energy will be one of the defining issues of this century, and one thing is clear: the era of easy oil is over. What we all do next will determine how well we meet the energy needs of the entire world in this century and beyond." Chevron has even posted a library of its "Real Issues" advertising - awesome!

Shell - its U.K. Web page has a mention of cleaner fuels; the U.S. page does not.

Marathon Oil - focused on sustainable value growth - nothing about conservation or the environment here. Not a mention. Not a clue!

BP - on the BP Web page, I found a unique enviromental mapping tool to provide environmental management information about every BP site. Plus, there's significant space devoted to "climate change" and "statistical review of world energy."

BP unquestionably gets it--and they back up their positioning with data and user-friendly, relevant Web apps.

So far it appears that Chevron and BP have jumped out to an early lead in this important race. Let's watch closely as it plays out.