Everything Is An Ingredient

11 03 2009

At a macro level, digital does two things to media:

  1. It destroys scarcity (and with it, pricing power, but that’s a separate discussion); and
  2. It creates abundance, which then breeds more abundance.

Every new digital asset created and posted online — a picture, a sound, a video — is now not only a completed product but is also a mashable ingredient. That means CPG brand assets, too: the commercial you labored over, the package you tweaked until it was just right: everything.

The world has just reminded been reminded of this in a compelling way by the Israeli musician Kutiman. As Mashable describes:

“Kutiman has taken YouTube samples – often non-musical ones – and turned them into an album that’s awesome on so many levels that it leaves you stunned. (…) it’s amazing to see all those unrelated YouTube bits and pieces fit together so perfectly. Kutiman, whose self-titled debut received high praise from sites such as Pitchfork Magazine, proves that any sound can be music if you know what to do with it.

It’s impossible to really imagine how this can work until you see one of the videos:

The Beatles are an ingredient. Jay-Z is an ingredient. Interestingly, Jay-Z not only knows this — he embraces it: lately he’s been releasing CDs with acapella vocals only. It’s all ready to mash.

Superman is an ingredient. “Friends” is an ingredient. Everything’s an ingredient.

Even two commercials can be an ingredient to create a third.

doughboyOf course, not every brand likes to be poked.  Or tweaked. Or remixed. But it’s the new reality.

Everything is an ingredient.  What sort of ingredient do you want to be?

Pattern Recognition and Four Other New Skills For The Future of Marketing

4 03 2009

“To understand is to perceive patterns” – Isaiah Berlin

There’s a great (and if I’m honest, mildly terrifying) post at Chief Marketing Technologist that  discusses some of the new skills that are critical for marketing success in the future.  You can read it here.


I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing.  But here are the 5 new skills the author discusses along with some takeaways from me.

1. Analytical Pattern Recognition. We are already in a data maelstrom of firehose-velocity info feeds. This will only get faster and more complex.  Great marketers have always been reductionists at their core, and that will be true in spades in the future.

Takeaway: Diving into the data hoping to come up with a single pearl of wisdom is a formula for drowning.  We must learn to float on top of it and observe where the tide is going.

2. Agile Project Management. The luxurious days of planning a few well-contained major campaigns for the year are largely gone. Now, you’ve got hundreds — often thousands — of micro-opportunities, swirling around the extended enterprise every week, the best of which must be quickly snatched and efficiently executed.

Takeaway: This creates enormous opportunities for smaller companies doing battle with Goliaths.  But it will only work for companies who are willing to  stop aping the habits of large companies because they want to “feel big”.

3. Experimental Curiosity and Rigor. Marketing is the new laboratory. The majority of marketing activities at this point should be run as tests, continually trying new alternatives, pushing on the edges, constantly on the lookout for shifts in response that portend new threats or opportunities.

Takeaway: This sounds great, but it also means we must ruthlessly whittle down the cost of each experiment. What’s the most we can learn, the fastest and cheapest way possible?

4. Systems Thinking. Tactics in one marketing silo impact the effectiveness of others (e.g., your search marketing ads) almost immediately. Social media accelerates cross-channel effects: it’s a new, living ecosystem. If engaged properly, that can be a powerful force multiplier; if mismanaged, it can be a train wreck.

Takeaway: Marketing Integration isn’t as simple as creating “matching luggage” where the TV, print and web stuff all look alike.  That’s the starting point, not the end.  The organizational challenge is tough: how can we get the various marketing silos to want to cooperate? Here again, an opportunity for smaller companies to win.

5. Mashable software fluency. Not all marketers have to become programmers, but those who understand how software is built and deployed in the new “mashable web” — a world of mashups, widgets, and APIs — will have a competitive advantage.

Takeaway: Marketing executives who can’t understand a word of this one need to go talk with a programmer. These are not geeks: they are business partners who can open doors you didn’t even realize existed.

Photo Credit: Mathieu Struck

How To Save Brand Advertising Online

3 03 2009

It’s not unusual for people to complain about the depressing state of brand advertising online.

What IS unusual is when somebody actually has an idea about how to improve matters.

What’s HUGELY unusual is when somebody has a lot of ideas and they’re all really, really good.


Troy Young, CMO at VideoEgg, has a bunch of really good ideas you need to know about. Read his post here and make sure you download the PDF. (Sorry, can’t direct link to the PDF.)

Way to go, Troy!

Should Every CMO Be A CDMO?

24 02 2009

Carol Bartz, the new CEO of Yahoo! recently said:

“We shouldn’t let marketing decisions be made by a technologist who has never met a CMO”

I couldn’t agree more. But I’m coming to believe that the reverse may be equally true. Here’s a provocative thought.

cdmoWe shouldn’t let technical decisions be made by a CMO who has never met a technologist.

I think it’s time for Chief Marketing Officers to expand their titles to Chief Digital Marketing Officer. That means meeting people outside their comfort zones.

I don’t mean meeting with a digital marketing expert. Or a social media guru. And I don’t mean a sales rep from Hulu or Yahoo or Vimeo or any other company that ends in a fashionable vowel.

I mean meeting from time-to-time with an actual living, breathing programmer. Someone who speaks programming languages fluently, and English maybe not so much.

Why Not Let Someone Else Translate?

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the time, letting someone else translate is the right idea. It’s practical.

A CMO or director of interactive has to trust the experts he or she has assembled, otherwise what’s the point of having them?

But the CMO must also recognize that each of his subject matter experts will tend to view the overall problem through the lens of their own specialty.

Abraham Maslow had it right: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.” Inescapably, professionals love their specialties. They tend to believe their specialty is the best or even only solution for a problem. Pride — and profit — can get in the way.

The virtue of talking with someone who is completely outside these individual specialties is that they are OUTSIDE. That’s where all the fresh air usually is.

What Can A CMO and a Programmer Talk About?

I’ve been lucky enough to meet great CMOs and great programmers. In their day-to-day work lives, they might seem like they live on entirely different planets. But they share a critically important common ground.

That common ground is an openness to possibility, and an appetite for magic that is un-constricted by org charts and silos.

The best CMOs and the best programmers are able to climb out of the quotidian muck and get an overview of the whole situation. They almost have to talk to each other now and then, for things to change.

The Beauty of Misunderstanding

The great thing about CMOs talking directly with programmers occasionally is that it almost always opens up new possibilities. This happens, at least in part, because neither side entirely understands what the other person is talking about.

A completely misunderstood question tends to upend our established ways of thinking. We’re forced to discard our usual habits and patterns of thinking, because we realize they’re not going to work. If we can just relax and go with it, there’s a lot we can learn from straying from what we “know” and exploring what’s possible.

We Learn By Teaching

The other great benefit is that we often see new aspects of what we do when we have to explain it to someone who has no idea what we do, or why. Someone who’s a stranger to our world can ask very basic questions about why we do what we do without fear of looking dumb. Especially now, it’s good to revisit those basic questions: how much of what we’re doing is smart, and how much is simply an unexamined habit?

Smart People Are Smart People

The main thing I’ve learned from talking with techies is that most of them are scary smart and have a fantastic sense of humor. Maybe everybody in marketing should have a “Take A Techie for A Tequila Day”, and everybody in tech should have a “Meet A Marketer for a Martini Day” once a year.

Worst-case scenario? Everybody has a few laughs and learns a littlle. Best-case scenario: new ideas happen.

Smart people are smart people. Who can you learn from?

The General Does Battle Against The Private-Label Pirates, And Wins

19 02 2009

UPDATE 3/4/2009: Ad Age reports General Mills has given Target a month-long exclusive on retro box designs for Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs and Trix. They’re even giving away T-shirts with the old designs as part of the deal. Brilliant: these will stand out on shelf vs. private label, provide a nostalgia kick to Boomers, and it fits perfectly with Target’s image. I love this.


Private label pirates accounted for more than $81 billion in U.S sales in 2008. That’s a 10.2 percent leap over the previous year. And, it’s no secret that the worsening economy has put significant wind at their backs.

According to a Nielsen survey conducted in June/July 2008 (when the economic outlook was comparatively rosier than today), 72% of American consumers believed that private label products are good alternatives to name brands. And only 24% believed that name brand products are worth the extra price. No wonder that in late March, Wal-Mart plans to reintroduce its Great Value food line, with new packaging and more marketing support.

cheepiosYet General Mills (which gets about 19% of its revenue from Wal-Mart, by the way) is successfully fighting off private label, against the odds.

What are they doing right? What can we all learn?

No Retreat, No Surrender

General Mills knows that brand perceptions are built on marketing. Instead of pulling back, they’ve increased their spending 19% in the first half of fiscal 2009, which began in June. That’s a big investment in their brands, and it says a lot about their confidence. Private label pirates thrive on big-brand complacency: when companies innovate and go to market with those innovations, private label is forced to play catch up.

50 Year Olds Can Still Be Hot

This marketing spending includes major support for 50 year old cereal brands like Cheerios. There’s a significant effort to reach Baby Boomers, who will make up about half the U.S. population next year, and who apparently eat a whole lot of cereal.

This is smart because Boomers watch more TV than their kids and grandkids. Plus, keeping core brands vital and marketing to the right segments makes it harder for private label to make inroads.

Barriers to entry are critical when your product is just cereal in the shape of an “o”.

Betty Crocker’s On Your iPhone. Do You Have Any Cilantro?

The consumer spend is about more than TV and advertising.

It’s also about digital and utility.

General Mills is marching to the grocery store right next to Mom, on their iPhones.bettycrocker_iphone

General Mills just launched a free Betty Crocker iPhone app that includes a lot more than cake frosting. They’ve got everything from Chicken Enchiladas to Cactus, Zucchini and Red Pepper Salad.

It also makes smart use of technology with a “Surprise Me” button that brings up a random recipe. Pretty good for bored Moms who are tired of wracking their brains. The app is perhaps not as slick as Kraft’s iPhone app, but the utility is there.

General Mills is fighting the war where it matters.

Who else in CPG is doing this well today?

Can you point to other examples?

Cheetos and Boing-Boing: The Orange, Cheesy-Smelling Future of Advertising?

4 02 2009

Confession: I have been in the ad business a very long time.

I don’t mean when dinosaurs walked the Earth, or the end of America’s Civil War, mind you. Let’s just say my first job in an advertising agency at 17 years old was in print production, filing letterpress plates.

The point is, I’m as jaded about advertising as a 90 year old rodeo clown is about the circus.

I’ve pretty much seen all the acts before. Most days I’m less impressed by the spectacle than I am by the prodigious amount of elephant crap being generated.

But, there’s something orange and cheesy-smelling going on at Boing Boing and I think it might be good. First, let’s go to the video:

Here’s why I think they’re on to something.

They partnered with Boing Boing to create it. This brought them fantastic creative sensibilities, intelligence and instant internet credibility at (I’m guessing) a low price.

Boing Boing, to their credit, isn’t hiding its head in shame at crossing the increasingly meaningless line between “editorial church” and “advertising state”. Instead, their site says: “Normally we’d just run this as an ad alongside our editorial content, but I love it and there’s a complicated story behind it, so we’re running it on its own. Now, allow me to explain further. Warning, I am about to get all meta on your ass.”

No billion dollar production costs. The idea can spread virally (if you click from here, it costs Cheetos nada.) Worst case scenario, Cheetos gets to fail fast and learn a lot. Best case for Cheetos, a bunch more people end up having a laugh and getting orange fingers.

It doesn’t take itself seriously. They are not building cathedrals. The idea seems to be to entertain people and get them to think about Cheetos. There is apparently no fiendish master plan beyond this, and that’s a GOOD thing.

It dares to be stupid. Way too often, marketers and ad agencies get so blinded by their own magnificence that they make everything needlessly turgid and strategically complex and deep. There seems to be some misguided notion that the harder and uglier the process is, the larger the sales will be.”

Anyway, maybe it’s just Wednesday but I like what Cheetos is doing here. I like it a lot.

NOTE: Some marketers and ad agency people may bristle at being depicted as “blinded by their own magnificence.” I want to assure you that this is meant entirely as a compliment.

To quote from Monty Python, “Your highness, when I said that you are like a stream of bat’s piss, I only mean that you shine out like a shaft of gold when all around it is dark.”

Can Social Media Scale For CPG After All?

9 01 2009

Ripple6 has a very good 11-part series of blog posts about social media and communities including video with Susan Ross of P&G.

It’s clear that both Susan and P&G have a strong understanding of this subject. I’m impressed.

modomatic1I’m intrigued by the Ripple 6 notion of “cloud communities”. Think of it as an RSS feed (aka syndicated content) to multiple communities all at the same time. What’s neat is that you can also select which communities get a piece of information — if a marketer exercises intelligent restraint, this enables them to participate in each community effectively.

It’s the most promising approach I’ve seen yet for getting social media efforts for CPG companies to scale effectively.

The series starts here. The page with P&G’s approach to Social Media starts here.

I’d love to hear comments from anybody who has worked with Ripple6. Anybody?

Photo Credit: Modomatic. Thanks to Creative Commons!

Can Your Brand Succeed Like Google?

15 12 2008

What makes Google so successful?

You might be surprised.  And, you might find more than a few ideas that can help your brand perform better online.

Curious? Read this presentation from French consulting firm FaberNovel on SlideShare.

I can’t embed it, but click here to read it.

What if you don’t give a damn about Google? It’s still worth reading.

If you do, when you’re at Holiday cocktail parties you can casually impress the living daylights out of people by telling people why Google is buying satellites.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.