The Warc Blog

He Who Has Not Christmas in His Heart Will Not Find it Under a Tree – Real or Artificial

Posted by: Robert Passikoff, President, Brand Keys, Inc

Blog author Years ago someone noted that you shouldn’t worry about the size of your Christmas tree because in the eyes of children all trees are 30 feet tall. That was, of course, at a time when children didn’t come into the marketplace hotwired to the Internet with Christmas Tree Height Calculator apps connected to the 5 megapixel cameras on their smart phones. If you’re trying to speculate about height expectations as regards Christmas trees it’s a pretty safe bet to say that size matters. No question there.

No, nowadays the big quandary is real or artificial. Christmas trees of all kinds are grown on more than 12,000 tree farms all over the United States. Seventy million trees are planted every year, with around a half-billion Christmas trees growing on farms, so this is a category that doesn’t worry too much about coming up short in the inventory department. The top-5 Christmas tree producing states are: Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin

Most artificial trees come from – you guessed it – China, and there’s no shortage of the 100% recycled plastics from used PVC packaging materials they’re using there either. Advocates of artificial trees say they’re convenient, reusable, and don’t drop needles all over the living room. But they don’t smell like a pine forest!

Last year – according to the National Christmas Tree Association – consumers spent $2 billion for 28 million real trees and 12 million artificial trees, with artificial trees growing in share while costing almost twice as much as a real tree. Tree sales this year are likely to surpass last year’s level, a sign that emotional values of the season are, once again outweighing the consumers’ rational, wallet-watching side that this economy has tended to bring out in folks.

So it’s deck the halls time, and the decision as to real or artificial is still open for the next 4 days. And if our work understanding emotional decision-making has taught us anything, it’s that there is far more wrapped up in the ideal of a tree than whatever winds up under it.

In the immortal words of Charles Dickens about his character, Ebenezer Scrooge, “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”
23 December 2010, 17:18
More Brand Disasters of 2010

Posted by: Robert Passikoff, President, Brand Keys, Inc

Blog author This week Advertising Age issued their list of the 10 branding and marketing fiascos of the year. They listed the Jay Leno move to 10PM (“tanked with viewers, advertisers, and network affiliates.”); the Gap’s lemon of a new logo layout (“looked like something puked up from a late-‘90’s Dallas office park.”); and Microsoft’s first entry into the phone category (“a physically unattractive communication, er, thingie with no clear positioning”). Ad Age picked only 10, so every disaster couldn’t be listed. The Tiger Woods human-brand debacle wasn’t included, for example. But they had others and they were pretty funny. Not, of course, for the companies and brands that found their follies revisited, but very funny for the rest of us.

Brand Keys also pokes fun at brands that participate in brand bungles and marketing misdemeanors all year round, in our blog The Keyhole ( We are unfailing in our belief that brands should be the beneficiaries of their branding and marketing efforts, and see positive consumer behavior in the marketplace: Sales; Profitability – things like that. Happily, we have metrics that provide a consumer’s eye view of the categories in which brands compete and because those metrics are emotionally-based they are predictive of what will happen, good or bad.

So when it came to this year’s brand and marketing disasters, we turned to the balance sheet and offer these brand disasters as additions to the 2010 list:

1. BP: The brand went from 1st to 7th (of 7) on our Loyalty Index when the well exploded. UK’s YouGov’s polls indicated no negative affects to the brand. The financials suggest the brand has lost all of its value in one year.

2. Toyota: The recalls – and attendant negative PR re: allegations that top execs knew, but failed to do anything – and liability suits resulted in a loss of nearly a quarter of the brand’s value.

3. Johnson & Johnson: Recalls can kill a brand, especially when you’re talking about medicine for infants and children, having to shut down plants, and stop distribution of your biggest names. Harder to swallow is a brand hit of nearly 30%.

4. Blackberry: Once the darling of businesspeople and Wall Street, the brand has lost out to the iPhone, Android-based phones, and Samsung’s and LG’s (very) smart phones. Bottom line: brand value down nearly a third.

The best thing about these lists? It’s the end of the year, and brands can put it all behind them – but only if they can get out in front of consumer expectations. Here’s wishing all a head start for the New Year!
23 December 2010, 17:17
Aha! Free marketing

Posted by: David Tiltman, Head of Content, Warc

Blog author

Beer brand Fosters has shown an innovative streak recently with an interesting piece of branded content in the UK.

The brand has been trying to associate itself with comedy, and decided to go one step further than simple sponsorship or ad deals. It recently launched the Foster’s Funny website and began to show original short comedy videos it had funded. And in a major coup, it convinced actor Steve Coogan to reprise his character of hapless TV and radio personality Alan Partridge. (For readers outside the UK, Alan Partridge - catchphrase: ‘Aha!’ - was a hugely popular comedy character in the 90s, and made Coogan a household name.) The site featured a series of original pieces that revisited the character several years after his last appearance, uploaded to YouTube and rolled out of a series of weeks. For example:

20 December 2010, 15:21
The danger of creative award targets

Posted by: Left Field

Blog author As I whiled away the hours at Brussels Midi station waiting in hope and in confusion for a Eurostar train to get me back to London, it became clear that the law of unintended consequences was at work.
It has, of course, derailed many a well-intentioned policy.
In the UK, for example, NHS targets have resulted in distortions to patient care; educational targets have led to the abandonment of non-core subjects and so on. Back in Brussels unbeknownst to all, the train I was booked on had been cancelled and all passengers transferred to the next train, thereby displacing all its passengers onto the subsequent train.
No one had any idea which train they were entitled to board: the resulting entirely unnecessary confusion and angst amongst passengers was pitiful to see. Why would any business risk such alienation of its customers if it were not for the fact that by cancelling a train rather than allowing it to leave 3 hours late, the company’s targets and penalties would be less jeopardised?
Charles Goodhart identified the dangers of using performance metrics as targets in his eponymous law. An advisor to the Bank of England, Goodhart noticed that as soon as a metric was turned into a target, it lost its value as a measure of success.
The most obvious reason for this is that other facets of performance that had once correlated with the chosen metric, cease to do so because they are deliberately de-prioritised in order to pursue the target: the metric no longer remains a useful broader indicator of success and often becomes counterproductive.
An elegant example of this is the apparent contradiction between the robust PIMS finding that profitability correlates closely with market share and the similarly robust finding of Wharton and Monash professors Armstrong and Green, that companies that pursue market share as a primary target actually lose profitability.
The unintended consequence here is the buying of market share through non-profitable means such as discounting and price-promotion: target achieved, but at a cost.
Why my sudden interest in Goodhart’s law? Ever since I wrote a report for the UK-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) entitled ‘The link between creativity and effectiveness’, I have become increasingly uncomfortable about the level and nature of interest shown in the study by creative agencies.
Naturally it is nice to have interest shown in one’s work, but just in case the report is used to suggest that creativity should become a target for agencies or their management teams, let me explain why Goodhart’s law is especially relevant here.
The analysis I conducted showed that campaigns in the IPA databank that had won at least one major creative award (as measured by the Gunn Report) were on average 11 times more efficient than those that had not.
Whilst this suggests that creatively awarded campaigns are more likely to be commercially successful, it does not mean that they all are – indeed in Donald Gunn’s landmark 1996 study, he found that around 14% of creatively awarded campaigns failed to show any commercial success: usually because the strategy was wrong.
What the IPA analysis actually demonstrates is that creatively awarded strategically sound campaigns are 11 times more efficient than non-creative but strategically sound campaigns. No amount of pure creative genius will turn a misguided strategy into a commercial success.
The IPA analysis demonstrates that you need to focus on both effectiveness and creativity to hit the sweet spot. So an agency that targets creative awards alone as its key output success metric runs a very great risk of undermining the value of that creativity as a result of Goodhart’s law: because the drive for creative awards will mean deprioritising effectiveness.
Perhaps this already happens - there are many very conspicuously creatively awarded campaigns that never seem to submit effectiveness case studies. If I were a client of one of these campaigns I would want to know why.
So the warning to clients and other creative agency stakeholders is this: if your agency pursues creative award targets, ensure that it also has effectiveness award targets. If not, Goodhart’s law may see your growth plans derailed.
17 December 2010, 17:27
Electrifying the Car Rental Category

Posted by: Robert Passikoff, President, Brand Keys, Inc

Blog author Zippcar, the world's largest car sharing service, is an alternative to traditional car rental and car ownership. You join and get a Zipcard that unlocks thousands of cars around the world. Drivers rent by the hour. Gas and insurance are included in the price and there’s no minimum commitment. It’s considered a “green” alternative because it gets cars – they estimate 12 to 20 personally owned cars for each Zipcar used – off the road. Has some real face-validity to it.

“Green” and “sustainability” have, of course become more important elements of most product and service categories in recent years. A number of years ago the aspect of “green” got so important in Athletic Shoe category that the ‘Materials and Manufacturing’ engagement driver had to be renamed to – no pun intended – the ‘Carbon Footprint’ driver. So we weren’t all that surprised to see “green” increase the percent-contribution it makes in the Car Rental Category as well. To be fair to all brands, there isn’t a whole lot of differentiation in that area, and they’re cars, after all, and currently Zipcar is too small to show up on our National survey, but that said, here’s how the brands rank versus the Ideal in being perceived as “green:”

1. Avis (58%)
2. Hertz (57%)
3. Enterprise (56%)
4. National (53%)
5. Budget (50%)

Avis used to be the brand known for “working harder,” but in this case Hertz is rolling up their sleeves and revving up their brand engine and taking a run at the rent-by-the-hour marketplace – and Zipcars’ green positioning – by letting eco-conscious New Yorkers rent plug-in autos by the hour beginning the middle of this month.

The company is offering an all-electric Nissan Leaf, a virtually silent mode of transportation with a top-speed of 90 MPH, which defuses the joke how do you make an electric car go faster? A tow truck. If you’re interested it will cost you a $50 membership fee and around $7 an hour. It takes 8 hours to charge at a specially designed charging station, and 20 hours from a household outlet, but no mention has been made about the length of the actual extension cord you’ll need!
15 December 2010, 15:24
When You Are Through Innovating, You’re Through

Posted by: Robert Passikoff, President, Brand Keys, Inc

Blog author Since the mid-eighties marketers have been looking for franchise opportunities for their brands. The most likely suspects were the industries where customers were not loyal enough or satisfied enough to make market-entry an easy(ier) proposition. On those grounds, the dry cleaning category would be a perfect candidate, and Procter & Gamble has come up with an approach they think is unbeatable: Tide Dry Cleaners.

Yes, that Tide, P&G’s best-selling laundry detergent. Clearly they are looking at the Tide brand as something that can insert itself seamlessly into the industry and immediately take the high ground That’s something Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business Professor, called “disruptive innovation.” From the brand perspective, we agree. Tide ranks number 1 in our loyalty and engagement index and is the top-selling brand in the laundry detergent category. This year’s ranking looks like this:

1. Tide
2. Cheer
3. Wisk / Gain
4. All
5. Purex / Era
6. Arm & Hammer
7. Bold

That kind of positioning bodes well for the brand and for a new industry entry.

But brand itself – even one rated number 1 – isn’t enough these days. Tide comes to the category confrontation loaded for bear. They have nearly a million Facebook fans to reach out to and engage. And let’s be honest with ourselves, while brand is the most critical aspect of any marketing effort, and ultimately the real differentiator, customer behavior is governed by customer expectations held for a number of category-specific attributes, benefit, and values like service, environmental sustainability, and pricing.

Tide not only has an already-developed, in-going customer base, but are said to be offering things like 24-hour and drive-thru pickup and delivery and cleaning methods that will be extraordinarily gentle to the environment. Not to mention a heritage of promotional experience that includes discounting, couponing, and added-value giveaways like P&G products and gift cards. Not a lot of neighborhood mom-and-pop dry cleaners can compete with that kind of marketing. Also, who can compete with the smell of Tide, evoking memories of mom, clean sheets, and home?

The dry cleaning industry generates nearly $8 billion dollars annually, so you’d think there would be room for one more competitor. But based on the Tide brand and the plans for the brand, it looks as if P&G will clean up.

Literally and figuratively.
15 December 2010, 15:24
The changing face of DM

Posted by: David Tiltman, Head of Content, Warc

Blog author

On Wednesday night I headed down to the DMA Awards in London, celebrating the best of Britain's direct marketing industry.

I already knew one of the results, as I had the privilege of being a judge in one of the categories – Best Use of Social Media. Although we weren't told the winner on the judging day, it was pretty clear that the 'Extreme Gamer' campaign by Epson Europe would walk away with the Prize, as it became clear during the judges' discussions that we all thought it was by some distance the pick of the bunch (it's certainly worth a read).

10 December 2010, 10:35
Asian awards round-up: Effie India announced and a new Warc Prize

Posted by: Joseph Clift, Product Manager, Warc

Blog author

The last major Asian ad awards of the year, the 2010 Indian Effies, were held in Mumbai yesterday. It was a great night for Ogilvy India, which won four Gold, seven Silver and three Bronze Effies and therefore retained its Agency of the Year title from 2009.

More broadly, it's been a highly successful year for agencies both on the subcontinent and across the Asia-Pacific region, with consumer demand rebounding decisively from the credit crunch-induced slowdown felt around the world in 2008 and 2009. And competition for awards is also booming. Speaking to Campaign India, Effies jury chairman Shashi Sinha (also ceo of Lodestar, a major local agency) said that "12 or 14" agencies can now expect to get awards, while in previous years there were just "three or four" winners.

08 December 2010, 17:11
Mirror neurons and social cognition – Gold nuggets for advertisers or just too complex to be practical?

Posted by: Daniel Mullensiefen, Scientist in Residence, DDB UK

Blog author
Even if you limit your reading these days to Stieg Larsson, the free newspapers on the underground, and the trade press you probably have come across a few scientific concepts that many advertisers get very excited about: Mirror neurons, social neuroscience, and theory of mind. Understanding how these social systems in the human brain work and how we use them to make sense of our social environment might hold the secrets for triggering empathy in people, for evoking emotions in ad viewers and ultimately how to create more effective campaigns. If only the bloody science behind these things wasn’t so complicated and one knew where to start in understanding them!
Just last week the academic publishing house Cell Press organised a one-day workshop at the University of London’s Birkbeck College on Social Cognition, the scientific area into which mirror neurons and all those other exciting discoveries broadly fall. The contributors were all first-rank scientists and luminary figures in their respective fields delivering very high-level overviews on the state of knowledge for each topic. Of course, the workshop wasn’t targeted at advertising people or marketeers (academics normally don’t feel the need to explain anything to the business world). Instead, the audience was mainly academics from a broad range of disciplines (biology to neuroscientists to social scientists). But the workshop was all free and advertising professionals could have attended (if they hadn’t been too busy to put the last touches to the very important deck for that really important pitch next week … you know how it is). So, I as the Scientist in Residence for DDB UK, was probably the only one in the audience who actually listened with an advertising ear to the latest developments in social cognition.
Since the initial publication by a research team around Giacomo Rizzolatti in 1992 mirror neurons have had a steep career and are today very widely postulated as a neural system that can explain a variety of phenomena from consciousness to the understanding of what other people are thinking (the so-called theory of mind) and the learning of complex motor and social behaviour. Really, if you do a literature search for mirror neurons these days it seems like they can explain almost any interesting human behaviour. Essentially, mirror neurons are ensembles of nerve cells in probably three different areas of the human brain that are active when we perform a certain action (like grab a cup of tea or hit a ball with a tennis racket) but also when we see other people perform the same action. By this very behaviour they could explain how we make sense out of the world around us and why we primates can learn so quickly: whenever we see someone performing an action it is a bit like we are doing the same thing ourselves. You have to admit that this sounds very elegant (and may trigger all sorts of philosophical speculations if you are that kind of guy), but as James Kilner from University College, London explained, a) they are only directly proven to exist in monkeys, b) it is unclear what they ‘mirror’ when an action that you see is ambiguous, and c) people with lesions in presumed mirror neuron areas (to be precise: the inferior frontal cortex, the inferior parietal lobe, and the  super temporal sulcus – if you want to show off at the next Christmas party) can still understand the intentions behind the actions they see. Kilner thus reckons that many claims of what mirror neurons actually do have been a bit bold. They indeed seem to be active when we observe actions predicting what is going to happen next when someone is whacking a tennis racket towards a flying ball (or towards a referees head). But mirror neurons might actually not encode the intention of an action – why the tennis racket is on collision course with the referees head (and you could clearly see that there might be several reasons that caused an incident like this to happen). Thus, Kilner suggests that the function of mirror neurons is at a lower level, being more concerned with how an action is performed (eg its kinematics) rather than why it is being performed.
Does this make them less attractive to the advertiser with a curious scientific mind? Take a look in the mirror and decide.
08 December 2010, 15:20
Digital integration and a return to core values - DMA Awards trends

Posted by: Heather Westgate, Chief Executive, TDA

Blog author

I'm proud to have been involved in the judging of this year's DMA Awards, which will be announced tonight. For one thing, it's always fascinating to see how things change from year to year - and also what stays the same. And the 2010 entries have come from a more diverse mix of agencies and clients than ever before.

The biggest single change in the awards over the last year or so has to be the increasing relevance of digital criteria: good direct marketing has always been about maximising customer engagement, and in today's environment, the best way to achieve this is often through integrated marketing activity across a range of digital and traditional platforms.

08 December 2010, 09:51

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