Tag Archives: Marketing

Marketing Fail: How to Lose in Extra Time

Right product; right time

The World Cup of 2014 was a truly remarkable event – it had the usual quota of drama and amazing results but it also what should have been two clear winners. One of them was the German Football team – who took the glory. The other apparently clear winner should have been the inventors or this stuff – the magical vanishing spray used for free kicks.

The magic spray
The magic spray

The spray was a brilliant product. It is a foam that disappears after a couple of minuted, but it solved the problem of defending teams encroaching on the free kick taker when the referee’s back was turned. A comical but frustrating occurrence that had echoes in that other area of sporting theatre – professional wrestling.

Hold the Line
Hold the Line

Fans loved it, commentators loved it, no doubt referees loved it, players loved it (the attacking ones at least). It was the sort of business idea you expect to make the inventor a fortune.

Shipping a late goal

But as I read today, this is not the case at all. In this story, that has all the hallmarks of a team who loses in extra time, the inventors have failed to capitalise on their absolutely phenomenal exposure. It was a text book marketing fail.

It’s a tragic tale, but like in a game of football, unfortunately I think the fault lies with team who let the goal through, the inventors. As a marketer I read this article silently screaming in my head – these guys had the best exposure the could ever have wanted – all for the price of a few cans of product. And all in front of the world’s assembled media and potential business partners like Nike and Adidas, yet some how they screwed up.

Don’t ask permission, market your business

So what would I or indeed anyone with the remotest amount of marketing nous, have done (let alone what Travis Kalanick would have done!):

  1. Don’t wait for FIFA to help you. Ever.
  2. Politely decline the tickets to the finals, and ask for a blanket pass to the corporate hospitality events.
  3. If that doesn’t work, get out there to all the events you can – beg, borrow or steal your way into corporate hospitality.
  4. Get in front of every exec from any global sports brand you can.
  5. Get in front of every exec from any global retailer you can.
  6. Hit up the press – there were hundred of stories from the world’s press about the spray. Make sure your name is featured in relation to your product.
  7. Guerilla marketing – this product is a guerilla market’s dream. FIFA can be tough on non-sponsor advertising, but guess what, your product disappears! I’d be drawing lines on the ground anywhere I saw crowds of people – magic spray is the new velvet rope!

I came up with this short list in the 5 minutes it took me to write it, imagine what could be achieved with more time and effort.

Startups – don’t be like these guys!

The moral of this story for startups is clear. If you business is at stake, don’t wait for anyone’s permission to market yourself.  Other people have no stake in the success of your business, but you do. If you get a chance at exposure, stop at nothing to make sure that awareness becomes permanently attached to your brand. You may only have one chance. And event the biggest exposure on the world’s stage won’t be enough if you don’t have hustle.

Growth Hacking: 0 to 150,000 Useless Chancers

No, no, no, no bloody no!

No Marketer You!

I’m sorry Growth Hackers, you really don’t get it, and I’m afraid you’ve just confirmed my worst suspicions about your monomaniacal fraternity. User growth, in and of itself, is not the point of marketing. Sure in the past I’ve been willing to concede that Growth Hacking has a place in the marketer’s toolkit, but I’m questioning myself now.

150,000 Useless Chancers

What set me off is this guest post on Growth Hacking guru Andrew Chen’s site.  If you haven’t heard of Chen, he’s famous for getting Growth Hackers sweaty-palmed when they talk about his work for AirBnb – aka Affiliate Marketing mixed with smart coding to everyone else. The guest author goes into great detail talking about how he achieved 150,000 subscribers through the use of giveaways. His findings were remarkable, apparently he gained faster user growth by giving stuff away, and that some incentives work better than others. Bravo Growth Hacker! Bow down to your marketing genius because 0-150,000 and because ROI! Bravo.

But there’s a problem here. Leaving aside the fact you’re now spamming people, just who are the people subscribing? And why are they subscribing? Are they subscribing because they love your product or because they want free stuff? I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and say it’s the latter. As for ROI, yes that’s nice, but what’s the CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) of these subscribers vs the people who subscribed without being given free stuff? Dollars to donuts your free-stuff loving chancers bring just a fraction compared to your loyal subscribers. Worse than that, they’re just as likely to disappear to your competitor for a better (indeed any) offer. Congratulations, you’re now caught in an arms race of giveaways to buy the questionable love of flakey customers. Clearly that’s bad marketing and catastrophic for your business.

Staying Loyal

In marketing we use the term ‘Brand Loyalty’… I realise that to someone with a engineering background this sounds like more marketing waffle but it’s not. The hard-edged reality is that it’s the thing that allows you to retain customers and make profitable products. Those are real customers, they show up because great marketing tells them about your great product. These customers are not the ones that show up just for a free party.

As a final piece of advice to anyone employing a Growth Hacker and wondering how it interacts with your business objectives… When in doubt, just ask yourself, “What would Apple do?”

Fools in Glass Houses: The Golden Rule of Comparative Advertising

Sometimes I see an ad that makes me laugh out loud, this from American bank, First Bank certainly did, but probably not for the reasons they’d hoped. I laughed because the idea of any bank taking the piss out Google for their application of technology is downright hilarious. Doing so in the course of telling us that First Bank are releasing their banking app (this is 2014) shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness. But it did prompt me to reflect on the wisdom of a particular form of marketing – Comparative Advertising – AKA gaining attention by taking a swipe at others.

Rules of Engagement

The market for the hearts and minds of consumers could hardly be described as genteel, but in general, investing in advertising that directly compares you to others is reasonably rare. There are various reasons for this: it’s pretty risky to spend your own money in a way that raises awareness of your competitors; people can be put off by the seeming arrogance of the act itself; but mainly there are very few circumstances where a direct comparison is a good idea. There are some who identify opportunities where you can make direct pricing or feature comparisons, but even these are risky. To my mind there’s pretty much one single golden rule of comparative advertising – kick them when they’re down.

The Popularity Contest

Sadly, life is unfair. And business, like life, is a popularity contest. So if you’re engaging in comparative advertising pick a target less popular than you. Sure that’s not very nice, but as humans we have our prejudices and as long as you’re picking a target who is less popular than you, you’ll do ok. Please note that I’m not advocating anything that’s based on race, colour, sex, sexual preference,religion, creed or any other such factor. Quite rightly people get upset about such things. However businesses and professions are still a pretty soft target. So there’s opportunities aplenty if you follow the golden rule.

Example 1 – TransferWise

A great example of this is fintech company, TransferWise, their feisty ads play on the fact we hate banks, so a good kicking is ok:

TransferWise FYCK Advert

This ad works on many levels: we hate banks; we hate banks because we suspect they’re ripping us off; actually they are ripping us off; I get to be clever and thrifty AND stick it to the banks. Awesome.

Example 2 – Apple

Another great example, albeit a bit less feisty but still playing the popularity angle, is Apple’s long running, I’m a Mac/I’m a PC campaign:


This is a bit of an oddity given that essentially it’s a grown up version of teasing the nerd – it’s the sort of thing we should dislike if we consider ourselves good people. Except that even though more people use Microsoft than Apple, we do so not very willingly, so people don’t really like Microsoft. So instead it comes across as the cool little guy taking on the uncool big guy. Easy to like.

Sorry guys

So where does that leave banks and other perennially unpopular companies? You could to find a comparative examples of others still less popular than you – car salesmen; tax collectors; advertising people. The truth is that there are many companies who probably could take a swipe at Google and Glassholes, it’s just not right for a bank. Instead try something radical… Like providing a great product and service that makes people’s lives better.

Kickstarter – Failed Ideas in Formaldehyde

If you like this introduction, the first post in this series can be found here: “Kickstarters, you are not Jony-Bloody-Ive”

The first thing I should say is that I’m a fan of Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general, services like these connect ideas with money in a way which bypasses the middlemen, investors and “experts” and provides a marketplace for ideas… ones you’d think could not possibly work. For the self appointed “experts” a random trawl through the list of stuff that has received funding is a refreshing way to put your own prejudices in their place – the wisdom of the crowd works in funny, surprising and just occasionally, successful ways. But this would be a rather dull post if I focused on simply on success and the occasional worthy failure; sadly we’re all human and it’s simply far more enjoyable to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude and who knows, in the process we might a few lessons along the way.

Dissecting Specimens

x_lFortunately, here again, Kickstarter can come to the rescue. For if you wander far enough down the lists, beyond the hordes of perky inventors, quirky musical tropes, and budding entrepreneurs with all their interminable attempts to replicate Apple ads, you’ll discover a vaguely disturbing world of failure, hubris and some incredibly ill-considered product design. It’s a bit like one of those episodes of the X-Files when Mulder and Scully stumble into a warehouse only to find it filled with row upon row of aborted clone foetuses, all preserved in glass tanks and displayed with unexpectedly moody lighting (I mean it’s a science facility… aren’t labs supposed to be well-lit?) There they stand in mute condemnation of their creator, who made attempt after failed attempt to generate something of value, only to find the still-born “thing” has a tail, or an abnormally enlarged elbow, or a jaws where its buttocks should be. We the audience shudder in horror as Scully asks what kind of mad man could have done this so many times and yet still kept trying. Mulder, dead-panning, responds that the true sign of madness is trying the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Well Fox and Dana, those mad men and women have a new warehouse to display their efforts. In the nether-reaches of Kickstarter you can find bizarre picture frames for iPads, carry cases for iPads, and entirely irrelevant cotton pyjamas… for iPads. And much like the aborted buttock-jaw cloned-human foetus, these abominations to the sight of St Steve of the Book of Jobs, should be brought to light so that budding product designers will learn that on Kickstarter your shit ideas will haunt you for eternity.

Inflamed Passions

So that’s idea behind this new series of blog posts on product. Starting next week, and every so often thereafter, I’ll will bring forth one of these abominations to put it under a harsh light of the examiner’s table for dissection. But rather than stoke the passions of a flaming-torch-wielding mob, I’d rather incite some self-reflection. Hopefully we’ll all be forced to concede that just because we think our product ideas are best things since the iPod, chances are that they’re not. And despite a perky project video with its interminable ukulele soundtrack, in all likelihood the whole project is simply an exercise in poor taste and hubris, preserved online, for eternity.

Next Week’s Post

Come back next week for the first post in this series: “Kickstarters, you are not Jony-Bloody-Ive”

Tech Marketing in 2014: No Time for the Guru

It’s always a good thing when a friend gets an exciting new job. Double that if the job is with an excellent company which is experiencing high growth in a newly emerging category. But it’s not often that your friend’s new job has the potential to help redefine a profession (in this case, technology marketing). My friend Peter Thomson’s new role as Chief Marketing Officer with the equity crowdfunding platform, Seedrs, has the potential to do just this. Let me explain why…

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Growth Hacking and Marketing: All I want for Christmas is a sense of perspective

With a week to go until Christmas the silly season is now in full swing – the annual prize fight between the big British brands for the best Christmas TV ad has already been won by John Lewis (in my opinion), and the remaining contenders for the Christmas single steeplechase are putting in their final sprint to the finish. But in the Techtopia, the world looks a little different, and a couple of things that appeared in my Twitter feed last week have prompted me to do some thinking. The first has been the growing buzz around the concept of Growth Hacking and its impact upon Marketing in general, and the second, seemly disconnected, was this absolute (Christmas) gift from Canadian airline, Westjet.

Continue reading Growth Hacking and Marketing: All I want for Christmas is a sense of perspective

OmnicomPublisaurus – Adland spawns a big new beast

So the big merger has returned to the ad world. The merger of advertising groups Publicis and Omnicom will see the formation of a $35bn new entity that assumes the number one spot from the $30bn incumbent WPP. With so much interbreeding between adland and the tech world over the last 15 or so years, what will be the ramifications for tech?

Firstly let’s look at what sort of a beasts we’re dealing with. To start with, neither Omnicom or Publicis (nor WPP, Havas, Interpublic, or the handful of other players) are ad agencies as they are sometimes erroneously referred to in the tech world. Instead they are large portfolios groups comprising a full array of subsidiary marketing companies, who individually and collectively provide a range of marketing services to clients. The parent groups are constantly acquiring and divesting portfolio businesses as they seek to fine tune their offering to clients. The enmeshing of tech into their offerings in the last decade or so was part of this development. (It was also one of the drivers behind the development of tech in Silicon Roundabout).

Continue reading OmnicomPublisaurus – Adland spawns a big new beast

Advertising is dead; long live advertising

Whilst watching TV last night I saw something pretty special, it was this ad from Southern Comfort. Now I’m a little slow off the mark here – the ad was released last year, but after just one viewing I was hooked. This extremely simple ad displays what advertising does best – in the course of delivering a commercial message it is simultaneously insightful, humorous, soothing, self-fulfilling and above all, highly charismatic. The direction of the ad is a spot on; the deliberate lack of pace, the lingering shots, the rich colour palette, the brilliant casting… it hit the mark on all counts. This is what advertising does when it really does its job. It’s also the reason why advertising (and yes, even TV advertising) will remain a vital tool for marketers for a long time to come.

Continue reading Advertising is dead; long live advertising

Listen Facebook, just take my damn money!

When Facebook purchased Instagram last year part of the rationale was that Facebook was lousy with mobile and the acquisition would help. This was no frivolous thing, with mobile uptake and activity on Facebook outstripping browser-based action, and a majority of ad revenue coming from its browser-based activities Facebook could see writing on the wall.

Continue reading Listen Facebook, just take my damn money!

Quit whining, Instagram are a business

The response to the news that Instagram have changed their integration with Twitter has me puzzled… really puzzled. I’m not puzzled as to why Instagram chose to do so, as they see it, they want more control of the data and user experience for themselves. I’m also not puzzled that Twitter have done similar things in the past, for example to LinkedIn. No, what really puzzles me has been the response from the tech community… the community normally so enamoured with the idea of being an entrepreneur and making a truckload of cash (and possibly saving the world in the process).