Comparison advertising: making a comeback?

Comparison advertising. It’s been around for a long time. In days of old, it was the way to go. Choosy Mom’s choose Jif, the Pepsi Challenge, We’re number 2, so we try harder, the demos showing how Bounty was the “quicker picker upper.”

During the boom years, comparison advertising became passe among market leaders- why give credit to your competition.

Typically, it was a way to leverage a smaller brand against the leader.

Audi challenges BMW and loses

Audi challenges BMW and loses

It’s a dangerous proposition. Look at the smackdown Audi gets from BMW in their billboards in Santa Monica on the right. Those who don’t study their craft are doomed to get hit twice. Honda fired Chiat/Day from their motorcycle account. Their new agency came up with “Follow the leader” to which Chiat/Day came back- now working for Yamaha with “Don’t follow anyone.”

When the economy goes bad- all bets are off. It’s time to go into the cage for a brand on brand death match.

While scrapping for every dollar might not be an option as consumers cut back, the damage it can do to a brand is real. Do you really want to be the cheapest, lowest price product when the money starts flowing again.

Chuck Porter once said at the Cincinnati Ad Club “Anyone can do a better price and product ad, all they have to do is have a lower price” so it sort of shocks me when Crispin Porter + Bogusky starts running ads for Microsoft based on price.

Where “Laptop hunters” Lisa and Jackson go to buy a laptop for under $1,500 and do a comparison between Apple and a PC.

After the drilling Apple has given Microsoft with their “Get a Mac” campaign, which has won an Effie,  and has been credited for doubling market share, Apple had to see it coming.

But, this is the kind of attention Microsoft wanted when they hired the best ad agency in the country to try to breath life back into their bankrupt Windows/Vista brand.

Crispin Porter + Bogusky is again proving that edgy, strategic advertising can get people talking about a brand differently, quickly, by pushing buttons.

They did it for anti-smoking with Truth, Mini with “Lets Motor”, the creepy King and subservient chicken for Burger King, un-pimp your auto for VW and now MSFT is getting the treatment.

[The reality is: both Apple and Microsoft will be in trouble if some 17 year old does for Linux what Blake Ross did for the Mozilla code base to create Firefox.]

Realize that Microsoft isn’t even comparing their product to Apple in the ads- they are comparing their partners hardware- people aren’t validating Microsoft in the buying ads- but Sony, HP, Dell etc.

How many companies would spend their marketing dollars on promoting their marketing partners?

When times get tough, consumers do spend more time evaluating major purchases. However, it’s not price that they look at as much as value. Giving consumers reason to talk about your brand value is only a good idea if it is really there. Look at the response to a Business Week story on the subject of the Microsoft challenge- compared to a holy war.

Maybe the best advice still comes from that old Chiat/Day ad: “Don’t follow anyone” and don’t compare. Leadership has its privileges.

VW: a brand still searching for a voice

Crispin Porter + Bogusky knows how to do car advertising; the Mini launch proved it. Then they “moved up” to work with VW when their patron at Mini moved to VW. However, Kerri Martin didn’t last very long at VW as the marketing chief, and neither will Crispin until VW gets someone at the top that understands the CP+B methodology- and VW actually learns how to deliver true “German Engineering.”

These two spots are a brilliant move, trotting out the old Beetle, to get the brand back to it’s roots: affordable, reliable, quality. However, with the dollar tanking and VW really struggling to make it out of the basement of JD Power surveys, CB+P is fighting an steep uphill battle.

Supermodel Heidi Klum interviewing a 1964 black Beetle that turns red when she says German engineering is so sexy. Heidi is impressed that every VW now comes with ABS and traction control standard. Talk show format, ending with a title slide: Das Auto- which means “the auto.”

Former Indiana hoops coach Bob Knight interviewing the classic Beetle- talking about basketball records, and VW’s winning the best resale value of 2008 (which is hard to believe since 2008 isn’t over yet). The joke about “one of us winning a title this year” gets Knight mad- and he throws the chair saying he might not be retired yet.

The tagline of “The Auto” is meaningless, but eminently better than the “Once you get into a Volkswagen it gets into you” line that was trotted out right after Ms. Martin hit the job market. Somehow, I’m still waiting for CP+B to trot “Fahrvergnugen” back out- and do it right. Or for VW corporate to realize there was nothing wrong with “Drivers Wanted” which had a hint of BMW “Ultimate driving machine” for the rest of us.

Besides the dubious hints at quality (no fault of CP+B- they work with what VW builds), the only thing that stops these ads from being good is the “German voice” of the car. It’s a cartoon voice for a cartoon brand.

In the search for a brand voice, VW is still lost.

You can read the whole VW Press release here.

Crispin wins Microsoft account: Now the real test begins

Crispin Porter + Bogusky has a track record of delivering creative that gets attention. However, the old adage is nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising may be the beginning of the end for Microsoft.

Vista has been a flop from day one. It was supposed to be an improvement over Windows XP, yet, people are still buying PC’s with the old operating system. That should be the first indication that Microsoft is in trouble. No one would want to buy the last version of Apple’s OS X.

And here lies the true test: will Crispin Porter + Bogusky chuck all their Mac’s and do the work on PC’s running Vista to prove that the machine is capable? (boot camp, parallels etc. don’t count). David Ogilvy was a firm believer in never advertising anything you didn’t use personally. My guess is they won’t.

Here are the details from AdAge:

Crispin Wins Microsoft’s Consumer-Products Effort - Advertising Age - Agency News
Microsoft Corp. today handed MDC Partners’ Crispin Porter & Bogusky a major consumer assignment promoting its Windows products to break later this year.
Microsoft has chosen Crispin Porter & Bogusky as their creative partner for an upcoming consumer marketing campaign.

Spending on the account was undisclosed, but could be as high as $300 million or more, according to executives familiar with the assignment. Microsoft spent almost $1 billion on measured and unmeasured marketing in the U.S. alone for 2006, according to the most recent Advertising Age DataCenter analysis….

“After a thorough review of several creative and strategic advertising agencies, Microsoft has selected Crispin Porter & Bogusky as our creative partner for an upcoming consumer marketing campaign,” read a statement from Microsoft. “Crispin was chosen based on their strategic approach, the strength of their creative ideas and the passionate and diverse team of people at the agency.”…

Although details of the new assignment have not been spelled out, Rob Enderle, principal analyst, the Enderle Group, San Jose, Calif., said it comes at a time when Microsoft is about to release a fix for the poorly received Vista, a so-called Service Pack 1…

“Microsoft lacks marketing skills,” Mr. Enderle said. “They can bring creative on board, but if it is not directed, you wind up with creative junk,” he said. “It’s clear to me this is not just an agency problem.”

Bruised by Apple
Microsoft has a problem with the continued embarrassment caused by Apple’s “Mac vs. PC” ad campaign, Mr. Enderle said. “It is unprecedented in this industry — and most — where one company makes fun of a competitor for a long period of time successfully,” he said. The last time that happened was when carmaker Isuzu poked fun of Porsche. But never did Porsche’s quality come into question, only that Isuzu presented a better deal, he said.

“This one does far more damage. It does go in and disparage the Microsoft operating system pretty solidly,” he said.

When Apple launched the “Get a Mac” campaign by TBWA/Chiat Day we compared it to the Crispin Porter + Bogusky “Manthem” spot for Burger King: Is your agency ego in line with your budget?

This may be Crispin’s opportunity to prove they still have the ability to come up with a big idea that can carry through for a brand- that cuts through the clutter. The last memorable effort that worked was the “Let’s Motor” for BMW mini, a brand they abandoned when they took on VW. Microsoft may be the client that frees them from keeping VW, where their champion CMO left them and rumors of their dismissal have been circulated.

But, the first step is switch the shops to Vista on PC’s and see how much work they can do.

Back when marketing still meant something

Cirque Du Soleil mime on stilts at the 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton OHToday I was at the farmers market and their were clowns/mimes there from Cirque Du Soleil doing advance work for the Saltimbanco show next week. Call it “street teams” or guerrilla marketing, it was refreshing to see a business go out and actively seek customers in their environment. Doesn’t happen much anymore. We’ve gotten lazy- trying to invite our message in by interrupting their entertainment with commercials, their landscape with billboards and their websites with ads.

But while I was shopping, I was listening to American Public Radio’s Marketplace on my iPhone, and heard a story of how Procter & Gamble invented the market for Crisco- and it reminded me why they are the marketing powerhouse- not just by dollars spent, but by long history of working hard to connect with consumers. Our current industry fixation with “Branded Content” is nothing more than a new name for the soap opera- a P&G invention.

Here is an excerpt of the podcast- and a link to the whole she-bang. Highly recommended short podcast:

Marketplace: Crisco: A marketing revolution
…Crisco maker Procter & Gamble was a pioneer in the emerging science of creating demand. Historian Susan Strasser says the Crisco experiment started in 1911, when the company was selling Ivory soap. Cottonseed oil was a key ingredient.

Susan Strasser: And they decided to develop a product that would use a lot more cottonseed oil, so that they could control that market, really.

P&G’s scientists came up with this white, fluffy substance. It sort of resembled lard, and yet had no taste and no smell. It wasn’t food, exactly, but the company would ask consumers to bake and fry with it. Thus began an American mass-marketing milestone.

Strasser: Originally, they tried to call it Crispo, but then they discovered that a cracker factory already had the trademark.

P&G hawked its new product as a “scientific discovery.” The company sent free samples to every grocer in America. They held Crisco teas — an early version of the focus group. P&G even niche-marketed the product as kosher to the Jewish community….

In the podcast they talked about how P&G educated the consumer in how to use their products- something that the web is incredibly useful for. Yet, how many company websites feature big how-to communities built around their product?

Screen shot of Flash intro to BMW motorcycle Xplor siteFor instance, BMW motorcycles has an xplor area that’s focused on tips and tricks for sport touring - the segment of the market that they have a preferred position. How to pack your bike best, tips on GPS usage, and segments on where to go. However, it’s a members only site for BMW owners- you have to provide a vin number- and not open to the general public. Why not open the doors- so that potential customers can get a feel for what “joining the family” by buying BMW means?

Back to the Crisco story:

Marketing scholar David Stewart says P&G’s genius was not only giving people a convincing reason to try the product but training them to use it as well, with free cookbooks and recipes.

David Stewart: First of all, they focused on the health benefits — recognizing that this was a time we didn’t know about transfat and so forth. And then they taught people how to use it, they taught people how to cook. They gave them ideas. And between giving them a real benefit and information about how to use the product, they were able to get people to adopt it.

Crisco’s crowning achievement was creating demand for something nobody knew they wanted.

In today’s open information economy- putting your “recipes” behind a log-in is as silly as trying to charge for it. Would Google have been as successful if they had asked users to pay per search? Sounds absolutely stupid, doesn’t it? How about having to log in to use Google? Again, very silly.

To make friends with consumers today you have to be informative, useful, practical- and be able to demonstrate value. So, before you do an ad that is either hard sell- or entertaining- think first about what it does to enhance the customers life. The same way P&G introduced Crisco as the consumers friend: “Honestly, with a little Crisco in your frying pan, you can have supper on the table in a jiffy.”

That was marketing.

The Web 2.0 marketer: where every page is a home page

We teach a seminar called Websitetology to try to educate clients on web 2.0. We also teach a fair number of other ad agencies (even the local competition) because, well, that’s the kind of people we are.

One of the things we stress is that if you aren’t on the first page of Google you don’t exist, and that content drives traffic. Build valuable content and they will come.

Unfortunately, it’s falling on mostly dead ears. Even huge advertisers like Apple, Burger King and BMW don’t seem to understand how to port their marketing to the web properly. It’s not about how your site looks, especially your “home page”- it’s about the content on every page: every page is home for someone- about something.

So- it was good to see new media bigwigs Avenue A/Razorfish do a study to confirm what we already knew- excerpts from the Ad Age article follow- with a short primer on what we know works on the web:

Do Home Pages Have a Place in Web 2.0’s Future? - Advertising Age - Digital
Avenue A/Razorfish: Brands’ Main Sites Decline in Importance as Consumers’ Reliance on Search Grows
By Abbey Klaassen Published: October 01, 2007

Garrick Schmitt was sitting in a meeting, listening to a client talk about the need to make its website “Web 2.0-compliant,” complete with tag clouds and profile pages. “Tag clouds?” thought Mr. Schmitt, VP-user experience at Avenue A/Razorfish. “Really?”…

The request seemed curious to him — do that many people really use tag clouds that a brand marketer’s website needed to incorporate them? Surprisingly, he couldn’t find the answer to that question. So he decided to find out. (more…)

Another ad agency search firm surfaces

Ark Advisors home page screenshotPutting an account into review seems to be pretty popular these days. Doesn’t matter what you did for us for the last twenty, thirty or fifty years, or if we catapulted the client to the top of their category- a new CMO (and they change faster than models at a fashion show these days) has to strut their stuff and see if they can save a bit on fees or trade you in on a new model agency. The client agency relationship in America has gone the same way the institution of marriage has gone- from till death do us part, to starter marriages and a string of trophy wives.

The most recent shockers were GSD+M losing Walmart, Wieden + Kennedy losing Nike running and Fallon losing BMW. All the agencies had taken their clients to the top- and then some. With each of these divorces must come costs- yet, clients don’t seem to understand the brand equity involved in an agency relationship. It can take years to find a client voice- and only one swift move by a budding CMO to lose it.

So, with the “trading agencies” show going great guns- the new business to be in is one of matchmaker- to which we recently added Ark Advisors/AAI to the mix. Here is their uninspired bio: (with writing like this, it’s a wonder they are qualified to tell the good agencies from the bad)

About Us
Ark Advisors is a management consulting firm that focuses on a broad range of complex issues facing corporate advertisers and their marketing communications partners. We work in concert with our clients to optimize their relationships with their agencies and to maximize the effectiveness of their own marketing operations.

We have four primary areas of specialization: Agency/Resource Search, Agency Compensation, Client-Agency Relationship management, and corporate Marketing Management.

The Next Wave tries to provide the most update to date list of “agency search consultants” on the web- for those thinking of finding a new agency. Of course, once you’ve found us- you really shouldn’t need to do much more searching.