Marketing Isn’t News

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There’s something going around on Facebook and Twitter, and it represents a lack of critical thinking.

The gist of it is this: Author Wednesday Martin has uncovered a phenomenon that she discusses in her upcoming book Primates of Park Avenue. Allegedly, wealthy Manhattan moms are hiring disabled people to join them on trips to Disney World so that they and their actual families can jump the line.

Now, clearly this would be abuse of Disney’s policies. And you may or may not feel that it’s taking advantage of another person–the moms in question are using someone else’s physical condition for their own benefit, but on the other hand someone’s getting a free trip, and possibly payment in addition to that.

But is it really news?

I say no, and here’s why.

Every article and report I’ve seen refers to the same source: The New York Post. Every article uses the phrase I used above: wealthy Manhattan moms. Every article uses the same unattributed quote from “one mom.”

And those element set off my skepticism meter.

There’s both not enough detail (the lack of variety and the lack of names) and too much (“wealthy” “Manhattan” “moms”). The details that exist seem calculated to push class-issue buttons.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that some people do this. Name anything, good or bad, and somebody does it. But I really doubt that it’s as widespread as Wednesday Martin wants us to think.

So I took a look at not only the articles, but Wednesday Martin. She has a Ph.D. in comparative literature, and her other book is called Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel and Act the Way We Do. And on her website, there is a large, impossible-to-avoid button that says, “Tell Oprah you want to see a show about women with stepchildren.”

WednesdayMartinWebsite_crop

As you may have guessed from the subtitle, Wednesday Martin has stepchildren.

What we have here is not news. It is not a societal phenomenon. It is a marketing campaign.

Shouldn’t CNN and Time be seeing that, too?

The Definition of Meta

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Game of Thrones game

Thoughts on Marissa Mayer

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An insight, an idea: Marissa Mayer

Yahoo! got the CEO they wanted. They wanted someone who would put work before family. They wanted someone who would make the company–and employees–toe the line.

So no more working from home, although Mayer has the clout and the capital to bring her home to work.

I do recognize, as Amanda Enayati points out in her CNN opinion piece, that Meyer was hired to turn around a company that isn’t performing. It’s entirely possible that the existing work-from-home policy was being grossly abused, and that this is an effort to rid the company of dead weight.

As this Forbes piece points out, Marissa Meyer has always put a premium on face-to-face interaction–so this move was a surprise to many, but in fact is in keeping with her track record.

But I also believe that it’s not fair to refuse to let people work from home during the day, but expect them to do so at night. And saying “You can work from home when your child is sick” assumes that you’re not taking care of that sick child.

Flexibility matters, as former HP CEO Carly Fiorina points out. Surely there is a middle ground–regular work-at-home days don’t have to mean that a worker is never in the office. And they certainly don’t have to mean that there is no accountability.

And the latest evidence that Mayer is delivering what Yahoo! wants? Her 6-month bonus.

$1.2 million? Come on.

It’s like Yahoo! wants the rest of us to hate them. And her.

Photo by World Economic Forum, via Flickr. Creative Commons.

Strategy Matters: Tie-Ins

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I don’t have an inherent problem with the idea of product placement; done well, it can reflect a character or situation and provide visibility to a product or company. Done poorly, though, it can be distracting and ham-fisted.

The same is true for tie-ins. Recently I came across this display, and mostly what it raised was my eyebrows:

Modern Family

I see what this does for OPI. Modern Family is a hugely popular show, and even on the bottom shelf, this catches your eye. But what does it do for Modern Family?

The colors in this line are Am I Making Myself Claire?, I Do De-Claire!, Haley Good Lookin’, Basking in Gloria, Luke of the Draw, A Phil’s Paradise, Candid Cameron, Back in My Gloria Days, and What’s the Mitch-uation?

While OPI color names rely heavily on wordplay, these just aren’t working for me. For starters, I don’t see Phil or Luke as nail-polish wearers, and I think Haley’s more likely to wear more than one shade of polish than Claire is. So the names are driven by the labeling opportunities. (And nothing for Lily? Frankly, I’d see Cameron painting her nails more often than his own.)

I’m just not seeing a strategy here. This is barely a tactic. Mostly, it seems like an opportunity. But I don’t think that’s enough.

Gender and Marketing

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When do we assign gender to products unnecessarily?

One example: this shirt.

It’s apparently a boy’s shirt.

Why? Because it’s dark blue? Because it says “Star Trek”?

If you think women haven’t always been essential to Star Trek, then I refer you to D.C. Fontana, Bjo Trimble, Majel Barrett, and Nichelle Nichols.

This is a child’s shirt. There is nothing keeping the seller from having a category called “unisex.” This shirt would fit right in.

Choosing How to Serve Your Audience: Target

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Target has a series of smaller City Target stores–although this one in Westwood Village near UCLA doesn’t feel that much smaller–designed for urban customers. I think they’ve done a great job of identifying their market and structuring the store to meet the needs of their audiences. For example, there’s both a street entrance (shown above) and a parking-lot entrance.

So which one is this display closer to, and why?

Help Your Audience Recognize Themselves

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I’m a fan of green cleaning products, so the other day this line by Eco-Me caught my eye. The packaging is simple, but it says a lot about how they see their audience:

  • Gender-neutral: there are male and female names for different products, and the silhouettes match
  • DIY: The labels show how the products would actually be used
  • Family-oriented: “Dave” is holding a small child
  • Individual: Each product has a person’s name attached (and “Jack” seems like a bit of a grandstander, doesn’t he?)

They literally show their audience on the label, so it’s easy for someone to say, “That’s for me.” (Or not, because no product is for everyone.)

How do you identify your audience? And how does your product reflect that?

QR Codes: Location, Location, Location

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I’ve written about how to use QR codes. I think it’s also important to think about where you’re using them. You want them to be easy to find and identify. What do you think about these approaches?

Simon & Schuster is starting to put QR codes on dustjackets; they’re hoping to drive subscriptions to their newsletters. Thought: If you read print books, are you going to appreciate this? If you read digital books, are you going to see it?

The Metro newspaper chain in Canada is using QR codes to promote their mobile edition. Thought: The micro-newspaper box–or is it nano?–is either adorable or invisible, depending on whether you look there.

QR code on Mine Bats van

Mine Bats puts a QR code on one of the rear doors of their distributors’ vans. Thought: Friends don’t let friends drive while scanning QR codes–but too many of us are already ignoring hands-free legislation, so this is probably smart.

And if you’re looking for some flat-out FAIL when it comes to QR code placement, you may enjoy WTF QR Codes. Don’t try those at home.

Photo by John Lisiewicz

Actions Speak Louder Than Marketing Words

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Ventura County in California has some of the most productive farmland in the world. So a lot of people would say it’s ironic that they’ve paved over vast amounts of acreage to sell cars. And I get that. But what I really think is ironic is this:

Paving over vast acres of fertile land to build a Whole Foods, complete with above-ground parking.

Parody and Social Media, Meet Shell Oil

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One of these things is not like the other. But the detail of design and link text makes it hard for the casual viewer to decipher. Nicely done, unless you’re the target.

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