Saturday, April 25, 2009

Marketing Blunder or Urban Myth?

The cultural factors that can impact consumer behavior include language, demographics, values and nonverbal communications (see Hawkins, et al, 2007, p 40). A cultural faux pas can be an embarrassing experience for professional marketers. The best intentions can be rendered fallacious and instead of a positive projection of its brand, a company can appear like confused Martians.

Many gaffes are humorous and because of this there is also a set of urban myths that have been fabricated. To help avoid these, a literary search of myth busters should be done when reporting on marketing blunders. Here are three that are not urban myths you might find amusing.

Eat Elegancita
Hershey’s Elegancita candy bar is filled with caramel cream, cajeta in Mexican, and covered with chocolate. A popular ad campaign in Mexico was extended to other Latin American countries that spoke Spanish with unfortunate result. Cajeta in Argentina and Uruguay, who speak Castilian Spanish, is a slang term for a women’s vagina.

The singer Thalia tells all that she loves cajeta. (see Hoag, 2005, p 1). Hoag goes on to say “Such linguistic pitfalls, where a common word may be understood in a different way in different countries, happen with some frequency in Spanish.” A contributing factor: there are sixteen different dialects of Spanish (see Spanish Dialects and Varieties) .

This story withstands the scrutiny of an urban myth buster (see About Spanish). This guy does torpedo many other urban myths about marketing gaffes, including allegedly misusing the Spanish language. Nova Myth and Other Urban Myths.

Cultural Confusion at IKEA
Money Magazine (see Bad Translations) reports on IKEA, as does Brand Strategy (2003, p 1). The IKEA bunk bed for children is named Gutvik.

This is a homonym in German for Good Fxxx. Muy Bueno! Just the right name for a children’s product. The Urban Myth busters say that to be fair, the German words are Gut Fick, and the phonetics are slightly different. (see TV Tropes) However, they do cite IKEA for another misstep, marketing the Viren Toilet Brush (see IKEA Catalog) in Finland. The legendary runner Lasse Viren hails from Finland.

Hakkaa päälle, Pohjan poika!

I Could Not Love You More If I Loved Pepsodent Less
Dr. Monica Bolesta at the University of Maryland (2008, p 2) discusses how Pepsodent failed to launch its toothpaste in Southeast Asia because it emphasized the whitening aspects.
Pepsodent wrongly assumed the American cultural preference for white teeth was universal. In Southeast Asia, darkened teeth are considered more attractive and the locals even chew betel nuts to stain their teeth. The betel nut itself is considered a sign of love and longevity (see Betel Nut Smile).

The Culitvated Drink for Apes
Pavane is an upscale bitters distilled and marketed by Bacardi. According to both CNN Money (CNN Bad Translations) and Zouhali-Worrall (2008, p 1) in a Fortune Small Business article, product marketing became a cultural blunder in Germany. The German homonym Pavian means baboon.

Bolesta , Monica (August 22, 2008). Cross-Cultural Awareness: Avoiding Global Marketplace Missteps. Retrieved on April 3, 2009 from

Brand Strategy (May 2003). Global village idiot. Source:Brand Strategy; May2003 Issue 171, p39, 1/9p. Retrieved on EBSCOHOST.

Hawkins, Del, David Mothersbaugh and Roger Best (2007). Consumer Behavior. McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Hoag , Christina (03/08/2005). The Miami Herald. Retrieved on April 3, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Zouhali-Worrall, Malika (Jul/Aug2008). Watch Your Language! Fortune Small Business. Retrieved on April 3, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Smirnoff: Asymmetric Marketing with Buzz

This week finds me in a gangsta kinda mood. So it was with Smirnoff when they commissioned this video gone viral: Smirnoff Tea Partay

Johnson (2009, p. 26) reports that Bartle Bogle Hegarty produced and released this made-for-YouTube video in August 2006. She has it ranked 6th in viral videos with 4.8M hits. She quotes Mel Peters, creative director at Citrus, about Smirnoff’s viral marketing:

“This is a great example of how the advocacy of followers can lead to an ongoing presence for a brand in this crowded space. That it continues to engage with the YouTube community is a testament to its success! “

Hawkins, et al (2007, p. 249) note that viral marketing is an online strategy to generate buzz and word of mouth (WOM). Buzz is an idea contagion that “[creates] an exponential expansion of word of mouth.” It is low cost but they go on to say (p. 248) that such strategies must be used with care so no miscommunications diminish the brand. Taleb (2007, p. 220) would say idea contagions are fractal as well as exponential.

Fractal worlds are winner take all. They follow a scalable power rule, something like 10% of the videos capture 90% of the traffic, and 10% of that top 10% capture 90% of that 90%. In such a world the top 1% owns a lot, 81% in my example. For WOM marketing online, this means you front $600K to produce a video but most times it doesn’t hit.

Chandler (2007, pp 27-9) also says viral marketing is fractal but he is more optimistic. With the advent of social media “the potential for viral, word-of-mouth marketing becomes enormous.” Not everyone is so optimistic.

Freedman (2006, p 81) quotes Dr. Patti Williams at Wharton that “the evidence you can go from online talk about a product to sales is really limited.” An example used is the movie Snakes on a Plane that had a lot of buzz online but a lot of fizz at the box office. To be fair, movies are one of the few categories where traditional advertising is more effective than word of mouth anyway, according to Hawkins, et al (p. 242).

Although not an optimist, Taleb says that living today requires a lot more imagination because it is a world dominated by extremes and the unknown. He advises us to seize asymmetric opportunities like this where you make a series of small bets that you will lose for the occasional big payoff. This is the most effective strategy in the world we are rapidly becoming.

Hawkins, et al (p. 246) say that other driving forces for word of mouth strategies are fragmenting markets and consumer skepticism. With all this said, I think buzz is no baseless fad. Unprecedented uncertainty invites unprecedented imagination. If you try to create buzz and keep persisting, every once in a while you become a playa like Smirnoff. In the meantime, you need to manage expectations.

Chandler, Doug (May 2007) Web 2.0: Buzzword or Bonanza. Electrical Wholesaling. Retrieved on April 17, 2009 from EBSCOHOST

Freedman, David H. (Dec2006). Everyone is chasing Internet buzz. But be careful. Online hype doesn't always deliver. Inc. Retrieved on April 17, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.
Hawkins, Del, David Mothersbaugh and Roger Best (2007). Consumer Behavior. McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Johnson, Celia (March 6, 2009). 10 of the Best. BANDT-COM.AU. Retrieved on April 18, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Taleb, Nassim Nickolas (2007). The Black Swan. Random House.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Analysis of Rolex and Movado Watch Ads

Watches often do more than tell time. They can help a consumer define and project an image: sometimes for status and power, sometimes to convey style and cultivation.

High-end brands have such extraordinary demand these days; the wait list can be as long as two years to get a Jaeger-LeCoultre. Socha reports that Patek Philippe sold 28,000 watches and Jaeger-LeCoultre sold 50,000 in the Prestige category, while Rolex in the Luxury category sold 900,000 (Socha, 2007, 2008, p 1).

It is no longer rare for Prestige watches to sell in the high six figures. Business is booming and all Prestige manufacturers sell every watch they produce. Even the lower-tier Rolex line is benefiting from this trend. Murphy (2008, p 1) notes that sales were even better into 2008, and quotes that "A diamond watch doesn't sit in our shop more than a week."

The Prestige makers have established "heirloom quality."
Keller (2008, p 137) notes their mantra, "You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation." So it is with Jaeger-LeCoultre. Here is their watch Queen Elizabeth received at her coronation. Not so with Rolex. Timex? A different kettle of fish altogether.

Rolex watches have a divine heaviness. You would just not expect them to release a plastic Rolex. They reinforce this image of eminence with advertising and celebrity endorsements. Green (2004, p1) reports that Arnold Palmer was interviewed on playing his 50th Masters and, of course, endorsed Rolex. What’s more, Rolex is the 7th largest magazine advertiser in the world. Keller (p 137) notes that "Rolex watches retain their value better than almost any other type of good." However, they have not been able to establish the "heirloom quality" of the top brands.

Keller (pp 133-7) finds that Rolex is among the most "recognized luxury brands in the world." However, Rolex is positioned between the Prestige producers and the next-tier producers and so they have established the lower-priced Tudor line as a "fighter-brand" to keep Tag-Hauer, Movado and Citizen from encroaching into their niche.

I present for your consideration the following ad in the November 2008 issue of Vogue (see Illustration One). First attribute: it’s a two page ad for 30 words of text. This makes a statement; Rolex is an eminent player, worthy of your attention. The alluring model with classic features is the 77-year-old Carmen Dell'Orefice (see Rumbold, 2008 for a two page biography), according to Kathy (2008, p 1). Her ageless beauty underscores the timeless value of the Rolex she is wearing. The redundant headline reads, “Class is Forever”, but we have already gotten the message. Rolex wants to break into the heirloom niche so it can obtain high figures like the Prestige brands.

The body copy has important words – royal, diamond adorned, Stingray leather, and Black Sapphire. If there was reservation before, it is now dispelled: this is a watch like no other, made for royalty from only the rarest materials. It uniquely enhances your image. This professional ad will certainly appeal to the following VALS Segments: Innovators, Achievers and Strivers.

To Innovators, the beauty and class of Rolex is a valuable extension of their self. It reflects (see Hawkins, 2007, p 447), “a cultivated taste for the finer things in life.” To Achievers, the imminence of the Rolex brand appeals to their needs for (see Hawkins, p 448) “established, prestige products and services that demonstrate success to their peers.” Finally, Strivers can emulate the wealthy with a Rolex but they may end up with a Tudor model, the fighter-brand – cheap enough to compete with Citizens.

Illustration One (left page): Rolex, “Classic is Forever” Ad

Illustration One (right page): Rolex “Class is Forever” Ad

Movado and African Americans

Hawkins, et al (2007, p 167) say that “not all messages targeted at African Americans need to differ significantly from those targeted at other groups.” They qualify this rule with the caveat that incorporating black actors, models or spokespersons in the ad is important. A key segment in this audience is what Hawkins, et al call (p 164) “market leaders.” This group sees brands as communicating their unique self-image.

The Movado ad is also two pages, presenting prestige through this eminent use of space and disregard for cost. The two pages permit a flattering photograph of the attractive black actress Kerry Washington and the Movado watch as well. The body copy tells us about the acclaimed actress, and that the watch is available at fine jewelry stores. The impression is this watch is not a mass production pop-out that anyone can own. Noteworthy in the photo of the watch is the diamond studding, the gold accessorizing and the header “The Art of Design.”

The ad does not offer extensive body copy. Jérôme Lambert the CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre sums up the advantage for this minimalism towards high-end audiences (see Lechevalier, 2009, p 1):

“The products are the real brand ambassadors; that’s our basic message. They have so much to say, and communication is a tool that loses so much of its efficiency when you overlay too many messages.”

The audience here, I think, is the VALS: Innovator segment. Image is important to them (see Hawkins, p 446-7). Brands act as an extension of self, and an expression of cultivated taste, and independence.

Many Innovators are emerging leaders. Kerry Washington is a good choice for the ad because she is an emerging film star (see Wikipedia, 2009, p1) with performances of note in Last King of Scotland and Ray Charles.

Zinkum and Hong (1991, p 352) conclude that advertising which fits with a person’s ideal self obtains a more favorable attitude toward the brand than if the had been more consistent with their actual self-concept. The Movado ad targets African-American women who are VALS Innovators and have affinity with Kerry Washington's attractive and successful image. One thing to help them establish their ideal is the Movado Esperanza watch, one that becomes an “extension of their personality” (see Hawkins, 2007, p 447).

Illustration Two (left page): Movado and African Americans

Illustration Two (right page): Movado and African Americans

Green, Barbara (6/16/2004). Rolex loyalist Arnold Palmer plays 50th Masters Tournament. National Jeweler;Vol. 98 Issue 12. Retrieved on March 30, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Hawkins, Del, David Mothersbaugh and Roger Best (2007). Consumer Behavior. McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Kathy (November 11, 2008).Rolex "Class is Forever" attention-grabbing ad. Retrieved on March 30, 2009 from

Keller, K (2008), Strategic Brand Management. Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

Lechevalier, Brice (2009). GMT. Retrieved on April 1, 2009 from

Murphy, Robert (4/14/2008) FAST TIMES IN WATCHES: FIRMS SEE BOOM FOR UBER-LUXURY STYLES. Women's Wear Daily. Retrieved on March 30, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Rumbold, Judy (3:54PM GMT 11 Jan 2008) Carmen Dell'Orefice: eternal grace. The Telegraph. Retrieved on April 1, 2009 from

Socha, Miles, (7/30/2007). Demand Soars for Six-Figure Watches. Women's Wear Daily. Retrieved on March 30, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Univ. of S. Miss (Fall 2007). The VALS Segment Profiles. Retrieved on March 30, 2009 from

Wikipedia (2009). Kerry Washington. Retrieved on April 1, 2009 from

Zinkhan, George M. and Jae W. Hong (1991). Self Concept and Advertising Effectiveness: A Conceptual Mode! of Congruency,Conspicuousness, and Response Mode. Advances in Consumer Research. Retrieved on April 1, 2009 from WVU IMC 612 Week 3 readings.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Applying Kracauer to Consumer Behavior

Literature and art are modes of communication that provide a framework for understanding marketing communications and its influence on consumer behavior. Siegfried Kracauer was a cultural analyst and member of the applied social sciences group at Columbia University. His work laid the foundation for modern film criticism and he is the author of several works including Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality.

One of his foundation essays was on photography. First published in October 1927 in the Frankfurter Zeitung, Kracauer considered Photography to be one of his more important works. As editor, he also published the works of Adorno, Horkheimer, Bloch and Benjamin, the architects of what became known as the Frankfurter School. The University of Chicago republished the Thomas Levin translation of Photography in 1993 in its journal Critical Inquiry.

A summary of his article Photography can be found in this earlier posting. Photography is an analysis by one of the most powerful minds of 20th century sociology and film criticism. Most of the precepts it presents are now part of consumer behavior as well as modern film. Moreover, it is part of his larger body of work that is a framework for understanding groups and cultures and tools for discovering their nature.

Kracauer had a PhD in Architecture with significant training in sociology. To supplement his penetrating fusion of the two, he references classical figures such as Aristotle and Goethe among others. The work has been peer reviewed by three generations and has stood the test of time. It is still considered relevant enough to be published in a recent University of Chicago journal.

Several seminal points are made in the article. Visual communication is an art that requires care to eliminate clutter, and establish meaningful associations between the elements that survive the purge. This cannot be done mechanically.

A second point is that photographs do not represent reality. Neither does memory for that matter, because it is the association of what is in activated consciousness. This in turn permits irreality to be created in a subject or consumer. For example, Hawkins, et al (2007, p 326) report on a study that showed subjects presented with imagery were able to recall a childhood event of being at Disneyland and seeing Walt shake hands with Bugs Bunny, which is an impossibility.

A third point is that the meaning conveyed by a photograph is generally incomplete and may be inadequate depending on the skill of the artist. These points are incorporated into consumer behavior already and form the basis for work with conditioning, consumer inferences, memory interference, and memory’s role in learning.

Two final points are not widely applied to consumer behavior but should be. The fourth point is observing the quotidian aspects of the group or culture is the best way to understand the motives and attitudes of its members. The fifth point is that timeless work does not attempt to be contemporary.

How Kracauer Enriches our Understanding of Consumer Behavior
On photographs, Hawkins, et al (2007, p 305) tell us that the impact of visual images on consumers and their inferences from communications with visual images is becoming increasingly important. Page (2006, p 94) makes the more bold assertion that the concept of an image, and the connection of the elements in that image to each other and to the concept is the “fundamental action within an advertisement.” This being so, we should expect Kracauer’s insights into photography to have a reflection in current consumer behavior body of knowledge. They do.

First, photographs do not represent reality, and for that matter neither does memory, as Kracauer observed. Trachenberg (2008, p 113) demolishes the notion that photography represents reality. He says

“Today that simple idea of a light-based transparent nexus between photograph and a determinate past is undergoing radical reappraisal. The digital revolution, as probably everybody on earth now realizes, has eroded the old confidence in that transparency.”
Hawkins, et al say (p 305) that “Until recently, pictures in ads were thought to convey reality.” This has changed and now instead “They supply meaning.” Hawkins, et al (2007, p 282) provide support for the debility of memory as well. They argue that consumer awareness and attention are highly selective, and their interpretation is a highly subjective process. They offer this conclusion: “Thus reality and consumer perceptions of reality are quite often different.” They go on to say (p 328) that memory links fade over time.

Has there been a re-discovery of Aristotle’s Law of Contiguity, the idea of proximity begetting association? Hawkins, et al (p 301) assert that stimuli positioned close together are perceived as belonging to the same category. Page (2006, p 95) makes the next connection. She cites research on Pavlovian conditioning (a.k.a. Classical) that there is also a transfer of meaning with such associations.

Kracauer argues that a series of different photographs can influence the perception of each other through the overall context they create. The modern consumer behaviorists, Hawkins, et al (pp 299-300) explain the nature of such contextual cues. This can be other pictures on the same page in a magazine or the programming surrounding a commercial on TV.

As we might expect, the artistic assignment of meaning is widely recognized and applied. Its fallibility well discussed. Kracauer noted that composition according to a theme is what separates photographic art from mechanical and meaningless photography. Hawkins, et al (p 300) comment on the need to organize stimuli to help consumers react to and interpret our communications with them.

They go on (p 292) to insist that all good advertising must have a clear visual point of reference. They affirm the artistic focus recommended by Kracauer and declare it fundamental to advertising communications (p 290): “Any factor that draws attention to itself and away from the brand and its selling points has to be used with caution.”

Page (p 95) recommends a process she calls framing. Her frames constitute “principles of selection, emphasis, and presentation that organize the social construction of reality.” This is the elimination of non-message elements through emphasizing a meaning to organize our communication.

Analytical Trade-off in Kracauer's Approach
The great social psychologist, Karl Weick evaluated behavioral research according to “three inevitable tradeoffs:” the simplicity, accuracy and generality of the results (1979, pp 35-40). The first tradeoff is typical of activities mimicking the natural sciences, the attempt to be general and accurate while sacrificing simplicity. The second tradeoff, the case study approach, is accurate and simple but sacrifices generality. Finally there is the approach used by Kracauer, thought experiments (considered a valid form of inquiry: see Weick, 1979, p 38) as well as aphorisms from his observations and analysis. These are general and simple at the expense of accuracy. The trade-off Kracuaer chose should be kept in mind in reading any of his works.

Implications for Consumer Behavior of Kracauer’s Work
First, the behavioral sciences are at risk with their overreliance on statistical research methodology. Subject pretense is activated through participation in such research. Neumeier (2006, pp 110-11) cautions that such research is susceptible to the Hawthorne effect. He describes this as the penchant for people to act differently when they know they are under observation or being measured. Kracauer asserted that the everyday social activities of a group or its unembellished enactments like its literature and art reveal its nature without mediation and are better evidence for understanding its essence than its own pronouncements or the application of formal research techniques.

Wilson and Ogden (2004, pp 52-60 ) report on case studies of catastrophic failure in marketing campaigns based on statistical surveys, including New Coke. They present the following summary opinion with several supporting citations (p 30):
"Industry and academic opinion is that opinion surveys that measure behavior and predict behavior in isolation from the group are inherently flawed. Unless the measuring device is carefully designed and implemented, it may not measure the most salient opinion and the results may be misleading, causing costly strategic errors."

Taleb (2007, pp 229-247) provides further explanation and criticism (p 229 and following): “The Bell Curve, that great intellectual fraud.” Statistical distributions such as the Bell Curve are based on the assumption that the underlying population is non-scalable. In other words, as you leave the mean, not only is the count less, but that it is increasingly less. This is not a true attribute of all the populations where behavioral scientists are applying statistical surveys in a wooden and perfunctory manner.

A second and related implication is that the consumer research reaction to issues with mathematical surveys is to introduce “visual ethnography.” Brace-Govan (2007, p 735) says “visual ethnography offers marketers opportunities to gather appealing and pertinent data.” In view of Kracauer’s reservations, and his preeminence in the field of the visual arts, another and critical look must be made into the use of visual ethnography and interpretations based on it. Photographs do not represent reality.

A third implication is a view in the Humanities that the emotions and attitudes of a people can be found in their literature, music and art well before it is obvious to journalists or social scientists (see Kaplan, 2001, p 158). This is because the future lies in the uncomfortable and sensitive feelings of the present that cannot be expressed in a presentable narrative because it would contradict conventional wisdom. However, they can be expressed as a work of fiction or art whose popularity is an indicator of these transforming undercurrents. Review of art and literature is the approach recommended by Kracauer. This is also the viewpoint of the anthropologist, Wallace (1963, pp 101-3)

This can aid the discovery of latent motives in a culture or group. Such unstated motives are often driving forces in a culture but unlike manifest motives, are not directly presented (see Hawkins, 2007, p 375). Instead, indirect appeals through artwork are made. Latent motives according to Hawkins can be cracked with sophisticated analytical techniques, but an implication from the review of the Kracauer article is they can be discovered through a literature review also.

Brace-Goban, Jan (August 4, 2007). Participant photography in visual ethnography. International Journal of Market Research. Retrieved on March 26, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Hawkins, Del, David Mothersbaugh and Roger Best (2007). Consumer Behavior. McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Holbrook, Morris (June 1987). What Is Consumer Research?. Journal of Consumer Research. Retrieved from WVU IMC 612 Week 2 Readings on March 21, 2009.

Kaplan, Robert (2001). The Coming Anarchy. Vintage.

Kracauer, S and T Levin (1993). Photography. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Spring, 1993), pp. 421-436. The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from JSTOR at on March 2009. (If you do not have a JSTOR account, I can email you the article).

Lewis, Charles (1998). Advertising Photography. History of the Mass Media in the United States: An Encyclopedia. Retrieved on March 23, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Neumeier, Marty (2006). The Brand Gap. New Riders.

Page, Janis (Spring 2006). Myth & Photography in Advertising. Visual Communications Quarterly. Retrieved on March 23, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Taleb, Nassim Nickolas (2007). The Black Swan. Random House.

Trachenberg, Alan (Spring 2008). Through a Glass Darkly. Social Research. Retrieved on March 23, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Wallace, AFC (1963). Culture and Personality. Random House.
Wilson, L. and Ogden, J. (2004). Strategic Communications Planning For Effective Public Relations and Marketing, 4th Ed. Kendall/Hunt Publishing