So What’s So Wrong About Product Placement in Films? The Good, The Brand, and the Ugly

I was half-watching “Kindergarten Cop” at my gym last week. Rest assured I was a captive audience as it was  the only thing on the TV. One of the scenes is Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a plane – Alaska Airlines to be exact – just shown long enough to see and short enough not to think why this is still on the screen. This was 1990, but a blip in the radar of movies with commercial product. Flash-forward to 2011.

With product placement and tie-ins around for decades and firmly woven into the TV and film landscape, Morgan Spurlock of “Supersize Me” fame takes on this sticky issue in a satirical yet serious way in “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”, a documentary within a documentary  (or “docu-buster” as he calls it). The film chronicles his quest to get “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” financed by brand sponsorships. Spurlock sews together an engaging, satirical look at how Hollywood and Madison Avenue not only share a bed, but openly exchange bodily fluids.  It’s an entertaining documentary tucked inside a marketing lesson.

As provocative and interesting as Spurlock’s film is, it might have advanced past marketing 101 to explore how brands, whether we like it or not, give a film part of its storytelling cred.  While the presumption that there is something sleazy and inartistic about brands and film merging, Spurlock only scratches the surface of how potent this combination can be used with today’s sophisticated, over-materialized consumers.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is a must-see to understand how movies and marketing morph together in the back office bankrolling of Hollywood. It cleverly cuts between Spurlock’s narration, interviews with cultural luminaries and film makers, sponsorship “sell” meetings with company execs, snippets of product placement in pop culture, and of course shameless plugs of sponsored brands such as POM, Hyatt, Sheetz, and, yes, Mane N Tail – the only shampoo for horses and humans (about which he constantly pokes fun). Spurlock reminds us of what we are all painfully aware of – the ubiquitity of branding in film and the increasingly blurry line with crass commercialism. The takeaway from the film: the all-mighty branding dollar reigns supreme in Hollywood movie making.

And this is where we get back to brands and their impact in a film narrative. What Spurlock doesn’t discuss is how products and lifestyle brands provide an instant, rich telegraphing of place, time, and status in film. In other words, the branding adds flavor, spice, color, and real-life.

Gone are the days of a can with “Beer” written on it in block letters. Filmmakers must include actual products to resonate with today’s viewer for an instant “got it”.  The question remains of which product and why (insert dollar signs here).  To connote a home without much money, there would much likelier be a Sharp 20″ TV with rabbit ears than a Samsung 80″ theater-style one. Likewise, James Bond would not be driving a Hyundai. Nor would Clark Kent wear an Armani suit. Thus, the brand becomes part of the story.

The fact is, companies and consumers alike are hyper-aware of how brands create personality, tone and place, whether it be a film, book, or pop culture art. Likewise, the shoes we wear on our feet, the car we drive, the food we consume, and every other decision we make on how to spend our money on “stuff” – consciously or unconsciously – not only tell the world who we are but who we want the world to think we are.

One of the most enlightening parts of  “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is when Spurlock goes to an agency to get his “brand personality” analyzed for the appropriate sponsorships for the film – as if he were a product being primed for the grocery store, shopping mall, or online. We follow him through the process as he is grilled with hundreds of questions by branding experts to hone in on the essence of Spurlock.  Turns out he is “playful” and “mindful” among other descriptors as his personal brand-therefore outlier-types such as Mini, POM, Target, and JetBlue are a good match. Not so much for Guess or Cadillac.

Spurlock concludes in his film that branding, money and co-sponsorships in films are here to stay and will only get more entrenched as time goes on. That may be true, but using this fact to its full potential is what it’s all about. Blockbuster film-makers and indies have different priorities when making a film: For Big Hollywood it is all about the green. For indies it is about making good films first. But rest assured both will seriously evaluate what brand of TV to place in a working class family’s home and a millionaire’s mock French château.


Milk To Relieve PMS Campaign Strikes A Nerve. Period.

If you blinked, you may have missed the controversy this past month over a “Got Milk” campaign “Everything I do is Wrong” which featured men suffering from the misery of their wives and girlfriends’ PMS symptoms and offering milk as the panacea. Clearly the intention was what we’ve all joked about-women are  bitchy around their period and take it out on their guys. And now the men–the victims here–can fight back by offering their partners a full serving of the Milk Elixir to relieve their PMS symptoms  (I personally think there wouldn’t have been such a backlash if it had been Chardonnay but that’s another story).

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the agency for the Got Milk campaigns since 1993, designed the tongue-in-cheek web, advertising, and billboard campaign. They shut it down almost as soon as it went up after the deluge of complaints that hit their website, Facebook page, and other social media. Critics asserted that the campaign made men look like the ones suffering, not the women. In other words, the ads were sexist and soooo not funny.

As an aside, there were also some complaints about the scientific validity to back up this noble claim about milk. But the heart of the controversy wasn’t about truth in advertising, it was about perception.

What I found interesting about all the hoopla is that is five years ago there was a full-fledged TV commercial that had the exact same PMS gimmick. But guess what? No one complained, or at least enough to pull the commercial before the end of its run. This is likely because there wasn’t the powerful social media everywhere like now. In 2011, thousands are able to make their feelings known swiftly and strongly and get an immediate response.

The agency even redirected the site name to to put a more “forum” spin on it. However, even a cursory review of the site will reveal, other than a two paragraph apology, that they are still cashing in on the negative publicity. What’s that saying…any publicity is good publicity.

This campaign also caused me to examine my own feelings: was I personally offended as a woman? Did I think the campaign was funny? Was it “good” marketing? I questioned what exactly about the spin on the PMS caused such an uproar. Certainly it wasn’t that we were joking about PMS and periods, that’s been done a million times in jokes and media. Nor that it is a fairly awkward product to advertise, next to Depends undergarments and hemorrhoidal solutions.

So why then does this Kotex U tampon commercial “work” about tampons and received  praise from women? It’s also satirical and poking fun at something we all know but don’t really say out loud.  I’m guessing it doesn’t raise the ire of women everywhere because the people making fun at themselves are the people who are affected — not someone else. I can make fun of me, but you can’t.

So maybe if the Got Milk campaign had featured women joking about their PMS symptoms and how milk helps them to deal with their men better, we might be praising the campaign instead and asking our significant others to pass the milk.

Cracking the QR Code for Marketers

I recently got into a debate with a marketing colleague about whether people know what QR codes are and what to do with them. She works for a company that uses them a lot so assumes QR Codes and usage are commonplace. Me? I’m a bit more skeptical but see their value too. (And if you are in marketing and haven’t heard of QR codes, you should know they are even hotter than saying “Facebook” three times fast.)

QR code, which stands for “Quick Response” code, is the latest trend to infatuate marketers and is helping to reshape lead generation techniques, add some spice and color to a campaign, or just have some flat-out fun. Originally used in Japan car factories to track parts, QR codes have the same functionality as bar codes, but can hold much more data because they are two-dimensional – contrast 30 pieces of data with 7,000. In other words, a lot of information can be transmitted to direct people to a destination of a marketer’s choice, including – a web site, contact page, text message –  the possibilities are endless. QR codes have become popular in the past year due to the rise in smart phones and downloadable QR reader programs (warning dumb phone users: do not try this at home, or anywhere for that matter).

My first take on the QR code was that it is simply the Web 2.0 way to contact a company by capturing email, phone number, or web site address. But I discovered that this was a narrow view: QR codes have much more depth and range of use, which means more creative and flexible ways to reach and drive prospects towards action.

Ironically,  the major place you’ll find QR codes is in the real world, but the only way you can use a QR code is online .Which leads me to an assessment of how QR codes play out in reality with the general consumer: tepid at best. For now. It seems that the audience intended for all the QR hype is lagging behind marketers, except for the tech-savvy and Gen Y’ers, It is second nature for them to click away anytime, anywhere. Several surveys I’ve seen confirm this: only about half of Americans have even heard of a QR code; and less than 30% have downloaded QR readers to their smart phone.  Many times when I see a QR code, explicit instructions spell out what to do, as in “Scan this code into your phone with a QR code reader”. When QR codes become more commonplace and phones start having built-in readers, I suspect their usage will be much more common. More survey results here.

So what are some of the benefits of QR code usage in marketing campaigns?

They can certainly help accelerate how and when prospects capture information they might not otherwise. Say a woman is walking by a billboard featuring a gorgeous purse (for man insert cool electronic gizmo here) the person begins salivating but doesn’t have time to write the name of the brand or anything other information. Just point a smart phone at it with the QR reader and Shazam! – capture all the data from the QR code.

Another great and timely characteristic of QR codes is that they are “green” without even trying. Just as printed brochures have become dinosaurs in the digital age and with our heightened awareness of natural resources, QR codes fit well the mindset of our time.  Picture yourself driving by a house for sale that piques your interest. Instead of seeing the typical For Sale sign with a rack of house flyers, the sign only contains a big QR code. You lean out the car window and scan it, which takes you to a video of a virtual house tour, along with all its stats and price. Nice.

And when it comes to QR codes, creativity has no limits: get entered into a sweepstakes, download a coupon, become a Facebook fan, make a purchase, and that’s just scratching the surface. Speaking of surfaces, you can put a QR code on pretty much anything-paper, clothing, glass, and plastic, to name a few. I even saw photos of a QR code on an apple and cupcakes too. Yum. You can also create patterns that spell something out (BBC does a cool one) or suggestive of an exotic hotel destination (palm trees) or apply different color patterns. Which is exactly the beginning of the downside of QR codes: even though the interest, cool, and fun factor is high, the intent of the QR code is not always obvious.

Consumers may be able to identify a QR code but they don’t necessarily know what they’ll get when they do scan it. Some QR code destinations are obvious, but others are clear as mud. An example of this is Google’s “Favorite Places” program. Members of the program place the promo sheet in their restaurant window to display their Favorite Places “status” on a map grid with a large QR code. But if I were walking by,  I’m not quite sure what information I’d get by scanning the QR code. It turns out it’s reviews of restaurants, but for me, and I suspect others, that is not intuitive. Prospective diners will still need directing, and that’s a problem for a split second decision-making that often occurs for us humans (research shows it takes us about 3 seconds to determine if we are interested in an advertisement, for instance). Sometimes consumers like to be surprised,  but not when they are on an information-seeking mission.

But the bigger question about QR Codes is whether the technology driving the marketing or the other way around? In other words, are we being blinded by a shiny new object?  QR codes are an impactful tactic that can be used as part of a campaign, but building a program around one is more of a novelty and will wear off. In other words, there has to be some marketing beef to a campaign, not just sizzle. And likewise, dropping in a QR code into a marketing campaign can’t just be an afterthought. It  has to be well-integrated  to make sense to the reader and add value to the message.

There is no doubt that the newfound use of QR codes adds a whole new dimension, literally, to marketing and  is a great way to move the prospect through the interest and  engagement level quicker. But at the end of the day, QR codes are essentially a mechanism to drive the prospect towards a call to action – otherwise it’s about as effective  as a bunch of squiggly line in a box.

Coupons 2.0 Strike Gold But Don’t Lose the Special Sauce

My name is Janice and I am a coupon cutter. Reading the Sunday paper, drinking my coffee and cutting out the $1 off an item normally $6 – that’s good math. Unfortunately, those little pieces of paper usually go in my glove box and never get used. All that has been completely blown away with the current coupon craze: emails delivered to your in box with huge discounts for local businesses. Think: saving 50 percent at that fabulous new restaurant in the neighborhood. Cutting your hair for 60% off the price at the cool salon downtown. Heck ya! These deals are the latest internet marketing darling and it doesn’t take a genius to know that people love saving money and feeling like they got a “great deal”.  And even though there are other coupon models on the web, these new deals have pulled ahead of the pack, combining the best of marketing psychology, financial rewards, and social networking magic. But what makes them special now could be lost in the future.

Groupon,the oddly but aptly named service (Group + Coupon – get it?) is the granddaddy of this coupon trend — that is if granddad can be less than 2 years old–  and has produced a spawn of copycats, all with their own twist to the online deal. The basic premise of Groupon is that a deal only becomes one if a certain number of people purchase it (as they term “Collective Purchasing Power”). Recipients can forward the deal on to friends via Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools and are motived by free Groupon bucks and other incentives. If interest falls short of the deal “tipping point”, the offer gets canned and nothing is lost.  Given the fact that only 1 of every 7 businesses that apply for the “Deal of the Day” secure that coveted spot and it takes about a month to arrive in an in box, these coupons are clearly desired for many neighborhood businesses.

A beauty supply chain in the bay area recently received 4,000 purchases from their Groupon in the first 24 hours. This number is impressive, but when you apply Groupon math it ends up being a big financial commitment by the business: They are on the hook for half of the profits of each deal sold (in this case the deal was $15 for $30 worth of products so Groupon takes $7.50 for each purchase). It also means that the business has to cover that $15 they gave free to each customer. But here is where old fashioned psychology comes in: a person goes to the store, starts looking around and before you know it, has purchased $50 more than the Groupon. And if they are a loyal customer they will come back. If they are a new customer they may or may not visit the store again. But that’s also one of  the negatives of Groupon, or any of these deal-makers.

There have been cases where a local business offers a deal, gets a huge response, and then has a problem covering the discount, especially when patrons don’t visit them again. Those coupon-buyers just wanted cheap eats for a day, for example. There is a well documented case of a Portland area diner who had to reach into payroll to cover the costs of the “success” of the half off lunch campaign. So businesses should look at the overall health of their finances, who their customers are, and potential of repeat business before going into deep discount land.

It will be telling to see which business models succeed in the coupon craze at the market is flooded with me-toos. Many of them have huge sales forces pushing their programs and some have built-in advantages. OpenTable, for instance, has been very successful with its “Spotlight” half-off email deals since their database is full of foodies that go out to eat a lot and  have a tendency to be receptive to OpenTable communications. Yelp has a tremendous and diverse marketing base and can reach its audience by interests, locations and other data. They’ve also started deals that extend for an entire week. Both OpenTable and Yelp already have a thriving online presence and brand name so the risk is much lower for their foray in the coupon business. Compare this with LivingSocial, which is a straight up copy of Groupon, down to the witty and pithy prose in the emails. LivingSocial may or may not succeed given they are only selling discounts (their name could use improvement though-maybe they used a Groupon for their naming agency?).

And now that the coupon trend is here to stay, Groupon has just recently attempted to add new services to cash in on its astronomical demand and profits. Last week they rolled out Groupon Stores, where merchants can have their own Facebook-like pages to feature deals and consumers can “follow” them. Some online watchers feel that this is a misstep as it will turn Groupon into other coupon pages on the web, requiring consumers to self-serve. What makes Groupon special and successful is that the deals are delivered one-at-a-time to your in box, time-limited, and have ability to pass on the deals to make the price even sweeter.

The pump is primed for success of coupons 2.0: They are a great boon to small businesses, offer excellent exposure, and can help jumpstart local neighborhood economies. For consumers it is a win-win since they can try new businesses or get great discounts at a place they already shop. But only some of these online coupon businesses will succeed long-term by keeping the special sauce…well special.

Image, courtesy of Groupon (note: Boston Harbor Cruise Groupon is one of the most popular to date. And yes a Groupon can get beyond the tipping point and sell out).

Mad Men Advertisers Would Make Don Draper Proud

As most pop culture phenomenons, if you haven’t heard or watched “Mad Men” at least once, you are living in a cable-free cave. I could launch into an ecstatic rant about the nuances and complexities of the storylines, the utter amazement at the set details of the time, how handsome Jon Hamm is, but I won’t go there. I want to discuss the ads during the show – one of the bests TV commercial strategies I’ve seen in a long time — which both embraces and ramrods right over the growing trend to skip over ads on your DVR-no mean feat.

When Mad Men began its first season, it had “wraparound commercials”, which was a small taste of things to come. Wraparounds are nothing new but are used in a clever way here. In this case they feature Mad Men’s thematic elements as background and in the foreground a factoid or question about an advertiser, say BMW, and lead directly in or out of the show break. In other words, the line is blurred between when the commercials end and where Mad Men picks up, so you make sure you tune in, sooner rather than later. And you might even learn something interesting (just found out “hotel” came from “host” in French).  BMW in particular, and more recently Bridgestone both have advertised his way season after season.

As Mad Men grew in popularity, more advertisers got on board with this triple threat: Not only did they have their product commercial during the breaks, their company names were woven into the wraparound commercial, and surrounded a show about advertising. Nice. There are several reasons an advertiser would adopt this ad strategy, the most obvious being to reinforce their advertising message, but another strong driver that has pushed things to the next level is that many viewers don’t watch a show when it originally airs and instead TIVO, DVR or On Demand it, skipping right past the commercials when they view it. This has becoming a daunting, growing barrier for advertisers trying to get mind share, only to see their viewership go down the drain double time. But wait…what if people thought the show was actually starting but it turns out to be a commercial…what a great psych!

Unilever, maker of over 400 consumer products, has not only accepted this fast-forwarding trend, it has taken it one step further by creating advertising campaigns for six of their products in the spirit of Mad Men show, amping up the fuzzy line between commercials and where Mad Men starts. This was a great move by the company to tap into Mad Men’s popularity while getting many a remote to stop squarely on their entertaining ads. Each commercial features one of their products, such as Dove, Klondike bars, or  Vaseline and star two retro ad men that distinctly remind us of the account guys that might have offices at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but a little more campy. And even though they are not drinking, we get that Mad Men vibe with the set and dialogue as they discuss their cheesy ad concepts. Often funny, we do actually want to hear their horrible ideas. And at the end of each ad, the vintage version of the product is shown front and center. Usually, a current product commercial is shown after. 

Paying homage to Mad Men, poking fun at advertising, and featuring Unilever’s history of  products is a very smart way  to engage with viewers and make a “show-within-a-show”. Clorox has also gotten in on the trend too. Their “Mad Men” only ad features a man’s white collared shirt with a lipstick stain. A typewriter hammers out in real-time “Getting ad men out of hot water for generations.”

I wondered, though, will the average person (besides marketing types) also be stopping the DVR during these commercials? I think the answer is “yes” from the success of these commercials, according to Unilever. The key to these ads is that anyone interested in entertaining commercials and Mad Men will want to watch. Does it mean viewers will buy more of Unilever’s products? Maybe. Will they remember the ad and product? Absolutely.

If Don Draper himself had thought of this idea, he would take a swig of his whiskey on the rocks (at 8am of course), pause for just a moment, and with slow inflection say “This idea has legs. Let’s do it.”

This is me after I “Madmen’ed”  myself. Try it at:

Traditional Marketing Does Not Exist

If I had a $1 for how many times I’ve heard the rhetorical question “Is traditional marketing dead?” or purporting that it is, my business office would be located at the top floor of a fancy San Francisco building instead of my small condo. I even heard this phrase  as part of “common knowledge” last year on a phone interview for a job from someone squarely in the internet space. Makes sense given his world revolved around ecommerce. For fun, I made the case for other forms of promotion, not sure if knew instantaneously I wasn’t a good fit for the job, was sticking up for my generation of marketers, or being a devil’s advocate. Lo and behold, they hired someone else. 

Fast forward to now:  I’ve had over a year to think about traditional marketing and what it actually means (nor not). I realize that the answer to this question affects not only the way thousands of companies seek out and market to customers, but also me professionally and personally. What should I spend MY time focusing on? What’s important to know for the future? I watched and waited, I scoured Mashable, TechCrunch, marketing articles and editorials, Linkedin groups, talked to people. I want to know what trends that have come and gone and maybe more importantly. what is noticeably absent from the mix – perhaps even permanently.

My first thought was we need to get rid of the word  “traditional”. It  not only sounds stodgy and connotes ancient, it  doesn’t capture the essence of what marketing has and will continue to be: an ever-changing transformation of strategies, tactics, and  tools to reach customers and prospects. As mentioned on this blog before, a recent marketing class instructor said  “There is no such thing as online and offline marketing anymore – it’s all marketing” and this was an aha moment for me, reinforcing the fact that innovations in technologies, shifts in communication and creative strategies, and business and consumer drivers dictate what direction the marketing mix will go, not simply salivating over anything internet related.

Think back to some of the trailblazing times in last century’s marketing: the first print advertisements in a newspaper; the first highway billboards seen for miles; the first advertisements for hair care, cigarettes and indigestion cures on black and white TV; and now social media communities churned into marketing machines. Some forms of communication go out, but many never leave. What works stays, what doesn’t goes away (fax advertisement anyone?).

Which brings us full circle to the same question: is traditional marketing dead? And does traditional marketing collectively include any communications that is print/offline and not on the internet? Is it one-way marketing pushing out promotion vs. two-way communication encouraged by social media communities and customer feedback? The answer depends on your definition of traditional, but the most popular one seems to be one that focuses on “old school” direct mail, advertising, trade shows – anything offline vs. the Big Dog: the internet, with a heavy emphasis on social media, particularly as of late. In fact, young B2B marketers have probably never even produced or received a hard copy direct mail at work, but ironically might be getting a postcard twice a year from their local carpet cleaner offering 20% off…which happens to be quite successful for their business.

The important question marketers really have to ask is not whether there is such a thing as traditional marketing and if it is dead, but what is the best way to reach their target? Context is everything – smart companies assess and deliver the right mix of gravitational pull for their own business and do not fall prey to the latest trends because they are in fashion or techie appeal.  It might not be a Facebook Fan page that grabs your customer’s business if they are not internet-savvy; or consider hybrid marketing like the Yellow Pages which have print directories but also support  a web business to reach their targets wherever they are. Compare a  high level executive receiving a hand-crafted invitation to an exclusive CEO event in the mail versus an email.  It may not be as convenient or include flashy html but it strikes the right emotional and business cord to open up a real and personalized invitation (with texture yet!). Or a multi-level, integrated campaign for a new consumer product which is advertised on the web, in print, on TV and retail. One communication channel may have more impact than the other but they all work together in concert, one is not more relevant than the other. Lastly, a high tech companies that offer customer events both webinars and in person events maximum impact with different audiences and objectives. All of these examples come back to: there is no such thing as online and offline marketing anymore. The truth is that traditional marketing does not  exist, smart decisions to reach your target do.

While it would be foolhardy not to be on top of critical pieces of the internet pie – be it email marketing, ecommerce, social media, the alphabet soup of  SEO, SEM, PPC, etc. – we must not be myopic and dismiss the successful tools used for years to reach our prospects and customers when they hit the bullseye.

You’re Not Paranoid, Advertisers Really Are Watching You

Thanks to the internet, the never-ending quest to pinpoint advertising to a viewer’s demographic has gone into territory unthinkable by the Madison Ave of yore. Back in the day, even up until the explosion of the internet, advertising decision-making and placement of ads were fairly simple: develop your messaging, ad concept, and make it as targeted as possible with the data that you had  – from something as simple to a Yellow Pages ad for the local plumber to more targeted like a billboard on the highway for tires, or a print ad for cosmetics in a women’s magazine.  Sure, you could pull from demographic information, but it was nowhere near the level of data-gathering techniques available online today. Advertisers now have access to a startling array of  information about peoples’ internet surfing habits, lifestyle preferences and other personal data to create advertising “just for you”.

In theory, micro-targeted advertising does have a mutual payoff both to the advertiser and the recipient:  the marketer doesn’t waste dollars on non-starter prospects and the viewer only sees products and services that are of interest — seems like a perfect match. But in order to achieve this potential win-win proposition, we must give, willingly, or ignorant of its implications, a lot of personal information to these folks. And let’s not kid ourselves, few of us lovingly embrace advertising, but know it’s part of the trade-off of a “free” internet (OK I love it but I’m in the business). Web sites where we shop, compare, network, read articles, and everything else turns a jumble of data about our grooming habits, drinking preferences, marital status, film choices, political leanings, and churns out a target profile.

From this technology boom comes a bonanza for advertisers, including some of the fastest growing advertising trends that marketers are capitalizing on and privacy advocates are watching closely.

Real-Time/Instant Bid Ads 

Online ads historically have been on the perimeter of web pages and many of us may not even pay attention. But if we look closer, we’ll see they have a strong correlation to what we are looking at on the screen, since advertisers can pull from general demographics and location. When I look up biking routes in the San Francisco bay area, there will likely be ads for local bicycle shops, bicycle trips coming up in California and maybe even an ad for the latest Lance Armstrong book. Now, though, advertisers can make split-second decisions by “following” viewers around on the web. For example, if I purchase a vacation package on eBay (who has actually been testing a system for a year), that data can be captured and eBay can dynamically change ads for other parts of my trip, like travel, or beach wear, or other vacation-oriented ads – instantly. 

Self-Service “Smart Technology” Advertising

Another trend ala Facebook is self-service advertising, which allows companies to cherry pick from Facebook’s 400 million subscribers for both demographic and psychographic slicing and dicing. For instance, an advertiser can pull data for all 30-35 year olds, single and married, in New York City who are Facebook fans of Top Chef and listed fine dining as a key word on their profile to see an ad of a new, trendy restaurant opening in Soho. Sometimes these ads can be a great match with the person, but other times are an awkward, intrusive advertising on our Facebook pages that will get noticed for the wrong reasons. Facebook does have sales consultants to help create a successful ad, but the point is, anybody can pull an inordinate amount of  data and create an ad for hundreds of thousands of people.

Geolocation Applications

Mobile marketing has been around for a while in the form of texting and other basic methods, but with the advent of mobile GPS, Geolocation applications, which reveal both your location on a map and real-world location (i.e. restaurant, store, etc)  it has become one of the hottest applications around and marketers cashing in on its potential. This has also spurned a whole new market referred to as Location-Based Advertising (LBA). Now when you are walking down the street on your way to dinner and pass the movie theater, a coupon may pop up on your phone for 2 for 1 tickets. It is important to note that LBA is an opt-in service so you will not receive coupons, discounts and incentives unless you subscribe to the company’s service. You can retrieve LBA two ways: where the location drives the discount from the company or when you are at a location and initiate contact with the company for instant discounts. 

Similarly, though still in its infancy, location-based social media games like Foursquare and Gowilla that notify friends of your location at any given moment, has marketing savvy written all over it too. Restaurant, shops and other businesses reward those who frequent their venues regularly with points, badges and other incentives (yes, you can be a mayor of a bar). These social media games only will get more popular as advertisers figure out how to capitalize on data collected about places where people are frequenting and with whom.

Smart Signs

Now let’s step offline to another area into an area where you are an unwilling participant but the target nonetheless of shrewd marketers. Say you’re a 35-year-old woman walking down the street and a digital sign advertises 25% off a womens’ clothing store right next door. Five minutes later, a teenage boy is walking by and the newest Wii game is advertised for the electronics store down the street. Technology has now evolved to recognize facial and other body features to create an instant demographic and in turn, rotate advertising messages in airports, malls, and other public places.  One wonders rather sadly if this trend will lead to embarrassing scenes like a large person seeing an ad for Weight Watchers while walking through an airport.  Advertisers are hesitant to talk about who is using this technology, claiming it would give their competition “inside information” about their marketing strategy but somehow I think they are more embarrassed.  

The most important thing for consumers know is that an innocent click at a web site, or even walking down the street, we are willing participants in turning over personal information to advertisers. So don’t be impressed when you see an ad that seems perfect for you, just turn to the mirror and congratulate yourself for a job well done. 

Photo credit: Boston Police Department