Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paid Surveys, Deal Sites and Online Market Research

I subscribe to the daily e-newsletter of an online deal-aggregating site called It's basically a site that scours the interwebs for good deals on a daily basis, "community driven bargain hunting," if you will. It's actually pretty awesome given the breadth of products that it finds deals for. On this site, I have found deals for products ranging from machetes, knives, and handguns, to electronics, diapers, magazine subscriptions, and deals on airfare. It's a brilliant site.

My post today though, is not about slickdeals, but about a specific deal that was in its daily e-newsletter that I received this morning. "Free $20 Amazon gift card with survey at," the listing said. Apparently, Lexus, to get visitors to their site to participate in a survey, was offering $20 gift cards to those who completed the survey. This listing caught my eye because as an avid buyer from Amazon, a $20 gift card is pretty much worth its value in cash. I went to and followed the directions, but apparently slickdeals users (and I'm sure other deal-aggregating-site-users) stormed and that promotion had already ended.

This was interesting to me from a marketing standpoint. I could see the wheels turning in the marketer's head: Lexus wants to know how visitors feel about their website, but everybody hates filling out surveys. How do we get visitors to their site to fill out the damn surveys? $20 Amazon gift card! BOOM, brilliant, how am I the first to think of this? But of course, a few hours and lots of $s later, they've got tons of data, but it is completely useless because the sample is no longer representative of people visiting the site out of curiosity about Lexus vehicles, but mainly consists of cheapo internet deal-aggregator-site-users looking to score an easy $20 Amazon gift card for answering some questions about a website hawking a car they couldn't give two shits about. Or maybe they do care about the car too and legitimately visited the site as well (I did...and designed myself the pretty IS-F below), but I suspect those kinds of visitors were few and far between.

It is interesting to see the various new problems that the next generation of marketers will have to deal with given the relatively new medium that is the internet. Hell, they're just now finally getting the hang of marketing via traditional media, and here comes the internet with a whole new set of problems, causing marketers to have to adjust their marketing strategies, even having to adjust their strategies dealing with traditional media.

How would I deal with it? I don't know. Perhaps figure out a way to gauge the actual interest of the visitor and then give them a gift card to fill out the survey? But it would have to be done in a way that can't be easily worked around by some schemers on a site like slickdeals. I don't know. I'm sure there is currently research being done that would allow a website to gauge interest given a user's clicking and scrolling pattern on a website. I definitely know that there have been studies done that show where people look when they visit a site. This, I suppose  is a question for future marketers.

Oh the LINsanity

As an Asian-American, it has been interesting for me to watch the Jeremy Lin phenomenon (or the various puns that have arisen from his play for the Knicks). As a long-time Knicks fan, I actually found myself paying attention to them again--though this will most likely end in disappointment yet again (see Knicks History in the late 90s). But what has truly been interesting to watch has been the reaction of the populace, including the media to Jeremy Lin's performance in the past weeks.

I could not help but feel a sense of pride in Lin's performance over the past couple of weeks. But I also could not help but notice some of the commentary that accompanied his performance. Lin, also aware of this commentary noted in a recent interview "It's funny. People are still saying, 'Oh, he's quicker than he looks.' And I'm like, what does that mean? Do I look slow? People are always saying, 'He is deceptively quick, deceptively athletic.' I don't know if that is because I am Asian or what." An article published today by author and editor at Grantland, Jay Caspian Kang sums things up quite nicely.

Another poignant commentary on the Lin saga could be seen on Saturday Night Live:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Santorum, n.

As the election year picks up steam, and the various states vote in their primaries and caucuses for their Republican presidential nominee, I cannot help but chuckle whenever I hear Rick Santorum's name. Primarily due to this:

Just for additional hilarity's sake, clicking on that link will lead you here. Amazing. Journalists love playing off of it too, like this article: Santorum's Surge Holds Steady So Far (hilarious? Definitely. Inadvertent? Definitely not). Nothing like pissing off the wrong guy and having it explode in your face in comedic fashion. While this may not have completely quashed Rick Santorum's political career, it definitely did not help (or maybe it did by unifying the anti-gay vote behind him since lefties were not voting for him anyway). This link first appeared in 2004 and has festered there at the top of Rick Santorum's search results ever since, like a hilarious sore. For marketers, the lesson here is this: the internet is a beast; don't mess with others who can use it better than you. Especially if good/bad press can make or break you.

In recent years, we've heard of companies' attempts to use the internet to help their businesses, but having it backfire in their face due to their misuse of the internet and the ensuing backlash from the internet community. recently encountered this with their CEO's support of the SOPA bill that was then coming up for a vote in Congress. The ensuing backlash and threatened exodus by users of godaddy's domain services was a PR disaster. Belkin too recently encountered a similar internet backlash when it was found out that they were paying for good reviews on sites like Amazon and Newegg. With the growth of the internet, it has become more and more crucial to ensure you don't piss off netizens because if they do turn on you, it will be costly to fix, or as in Rick Santorum's case, unfixable. It is also important to remember that the internet has pretty much infinite memory, so while one could recover from a misstep, there will always be a record of it somewhere, be it in a wikipedia article, or an article from the past that can always be searched with a few keystrokes on google. Beware the power of the internet.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Taco Bell Dorito Taco

According to this Gizmodo article, Taco Bell is soon to be announcing a new taco, the shell being made of Doritos. Dios f'n mio. It is the joint venture of my dreams and someone at Taco Bell finally realized its brilliance. Didn't Pepsi used to own Yum Brands? And doesn't it currently own Frito-Lay which Doritos is a part of? How did it take this long for someone to realize the brilliance that is the Doritos taco shell?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bulk Warehouse Stores and Deceptively Bad Value

In recent years, the warehouse stores such as CostCo, Sam's Club, and BJ's have become popular for their cheap, bulk-priced items. Who doesn't love their 5 gallon drum of mayonnaise and gallon jugs of hot sauce. Research has shown though, that just because you can buy things in bulk does not necessarily mean that they are cheap. I have definitely fallen into this trap before, where I assume that just because an item comes in a huge package, it's most likely cheaper at the warehouse store as compared to the local supermarket. But apparently, I am wrong in that thinking. recently published an article that includes a price comparison between items, and a list of things that are actually cheaper at your local supermarket.

According to them, we should buy fresh foods at our local supermarkets, while their frozen counterparts were much cheaper (and better quality when it came to CostCo's Kirkland brand) at the warehouse stores. While squawkfox gives specific examples of price differences, this concept is applicable in making purchasing decisions in general. In finding value in our purchases, it is important to note the price and quality per unit to ensure that we are getting our money's worth, and not falling for packaging trickery that will try to sell us less for more. Another recent example has been the downsizing of items in the name of "health," while charging the same amount. Yogurt packaging as well as soda has recently been switched to smaller packaging while the price has remained the same.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Menu Reading and Manipulation

A recent gizmodo article recently dispelled a widely held myth as to how people read menus. According to restaurant science, "When you pick up a menu, your gaze instantly hits the right-hand side, just a little above the center. From there, you'll head up to the top-right corner, then across to the top-left. Next you'll read down the entire left-hand side, and finish by filling the gaps that are left at the bottom-right and the middle." Restaurants apparently design their menus with this in mind, putting choice items in the "sweet-spot."

According to recent research done by Sybil Yang at San Francisco State University, this is not the case; people read menus sequentially like a book and there is in fact no sweet-spot. While I'm not sure as to the veracity of her findings (it could be argued that subjects' actions were skewed by the fact that subjects were monitored by retinal scanners), it is always fun to find out the reasoning behind the design of things as mundane as a restaurant menu, and how much thought is put into the placement of items on it. It is also important to note that such studies are being done--and the results used--by marketers to better predict human behavior, ever hoping to influence (manipulate) your choices in their favor. The stacking of items on grocery store shelves is yet another example.

As consumers that encounter such tactics at various places of consumption, it is important to recognize these attempts at influence. While we may not be able to completely thwart them, knowing that these tactics are being used is an enormous first step (As GI Joe taught us, "knowing is half the battle"). In the war that is the marketplace we must arm ourselves with information, because our adversaries most definitely are.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Product Design Fail

The "security" of RFID chips has been cracked for a while now, but rather than improve the product itself, credit card companies, one of the biggest users of the technology have chosen to silence critics of its technology. According to this Gizmodo article, the show Mythbusters, airing on the Discovery Channel were forced to scrap an episode that revealed the insecure nature of RFID technology after credit card companies threatened to pull their advertising dollars.

While "voting with your wallet," can be a good way to express one's views, it could also be dangerous when a person--or in this instance a company--with a big wallet decides to vote with it, undermining the security of the masses. The fact is that RFID technology is easily hacked and the credit card companies, not wanting this to get out (even though the tech-savvy underworld is well aware of its vulnerabilities), will choose to silence critics of the technology rather than improve it to make it more secure. The government also has an interest (and investment) in RFID technology, as all new passports have an RFID chip embedded in them, so they're no help either. The security risk is high enough where Wired magazine, back in 2007 wrote an article on how to disable the chip with a hammer.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Superbowl Ads, Blah

Watching Superbowl ads in this country has become as big a tradition as watching the Superbowl itself. People might not always be excited for the teams playing, but most everybody is excited about the commercials. We all watch in anticipation of the brilliance (or utter poop) that will emerge out of the various companies that bought the most expensive airtime of the year. People may get up to get food, use the bathroom, etc. during the game, but everyone's there for the first commercials of the evening. The suspense of watching what should be the best ads of the year builds throughout the week as companies spread rumors of what their ads might be about to create least that's what happened traditionally. This year though, imagine my disappointment as many companies "leaked" their ads in their entirety the week leading up to the game. WTF.

Thinking about it, I guess I do understand it from the company's perspective. It's a dress rehearsal before the actual event to gauge the response of the masses to make sure the end product does not offend the masses. Better to stave off disaster before the mass uprising and resultant loss of business, but from a viewer's perspective, it f'n sucks. I tried to not watch, but inevitably, I'd read something somewhere in the blogosphere that gave it all away so I might as well watch. It is stupid. I'd much rather have a commercial crash and burn and cause a mass uproar come Monday morning than have all the commercials market-tested for acceptability the week before. They should just do market research on a sample of the population. Fine, market research has failed in the past, but if a company's got the money to advertise during the Superbowl, they can afford do their market research right and not screw it up.

Having said that, there were some good ones this year. Being a fan of Star Wars, I definitely dug the Volkswagon ad, as well as the Doritos ad with the dog bribing its owner to keep mum about the cat. The m&m ad was cute and funny, and the ad risque as expected. But I could not help but be disappointed in the fact that some of the ads were leaked. It reduced the suspense drastically. But that also could have been because my beloved Giants were playing the Patriots, and I wanted the commercials to end so it would switch back to the game.

Verdict: Meh.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Glockin' Marketing

A recent interview of Paul Barrett on NPR described the rise of the Glock in America, and how it was not only the quality of the gun, but the marketing strategy used that allowed it to become such a huge success in the American market. Designed by Austrian curtain-rod manufacturer Gaston Glock, it was first created because Glock was unhappy with the choice of handguns in the market. After polling gun-experts in his country, he was able to fill a gap in the market by creating a gun with capabilities that filled in those gaps.
"They said, 'A gun with much larger ammunition capacity, a gun that is much more durable and reliable ... [and] the gun should be easy to fire [and] easy to learn how to use,'" Barrett tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "He integrated all of those elements into the Glock, and that's how he won his original contract with the Austrian army."
The introduction of the firearm in the United States was perfect timing according to Barrett, as violence was rising along with the drug trade. Police were often outgunned by criminals; Glocks with their larger-capacity magazines allowed police to better match up to their adversaries. Many cops at this time were still carrying revolvers which held only 6 bullets.

While the quality and capacity of the gun made it attractive, Glock also gave law enforcement large bulk discounts.
"This was smart, because the point was to get the police departments to adopt the gun, and that would give the gun credibility in the much larger, much more lucrative civilian market, where you can charge full price and get your full profit margin," says Barrett. "So this was ... a very crafty strategy."
While law enforcement use gave the gun credibility among the civilian firearm-using population, its rise in use in pop culture (in film, music), increased its popularity among the rest of the population. Glock also apparently cleverly foresaw anti-gun legislation in the United States, manufacturing the higher capacity magazines en masse before they were outlawed, taking advantage of a loophole that allowed equipment preexisting the ban.

While Glock arguably may have been successful in the gun market either way, its development of an effective marketing strategy definitely catapulted its rise and use in America. The lesson here: marketing is important!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Logos, Subliminal

After writing a post yesterday about the 5-year old girl and her identifying of brands, I thought of my own interactions with logos. As I mentioned yesterday, I was impressed with the girl because she was able to figure out that the CBS logo was an eye, and I did not even realize that until my teens. Then I got to thinking what other things I was not noticing about logos. I recalled reading an article somewhere (online most likely...Update: Here it is!) about things that are in logos that are not immediately obvious to the casual observer. While the blogger in the previous link gave 25 examples of this, there were four main ones that now seem so obvious to me, that I never realized were there.

The first one was FedEx:
Having worked in the legal world, I would see the FedEx logo pretty much daily. The logo is everywhere to the point that it is ubiquitous. But I never noticed the arrow formed by the E and x.

Another one was what was then the Big 10 logo:

Being a college sports fan, this logo too was ubiquitous to me, to the point where I never noticed the 11, hidden in the "T".

The third logo was NorthWest. I'd flown this airline a ton when it was still around, but I never noticed the logo's brilliance:

Not only does that little triangle point north west, it also makes the "N" into a "W". Well played Northwest, but I win because you no longer exist.

Finally, the Amazon logo:

I'd always noticed the orange smiley, but I never noticed that it's also an arrow starting with the "a" and ending with the "z", denoting that they sell everything from "a to z." Also brilliant.

These are but four examples out of a plethora of logos. There are a bunch more if you do a search on google. The Milwaukee Brewers logo is another one that I never noticed. I never really paid much attention to the design and creation of logos, but when I see these brilliant logos, I have a much greater appreciation for graphic design, and the time and effort and genius it took to come up with some of these seemingly simple, but memorable logos. Some of them are quite subtle and barely noticeable, but once I do notice it, I cannot stop noticing it. It also adds another dimension for the companies represented as well. I cannot help but think (and wrongly at that--e.g.northwest) that the cleverness involved in designing a logo also translates to cleverness in running the business.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Children and Marketing

I came across this video earlier and found it interesting. The girl in the video is apparently the 5-year old daughter of Adam Ladd, who is described on his Twitter page as "Graphic and identity designer with thoughts and observations around logos and brand design execution." Unrelated (or maybe it could be related), but also of note, he is a self-described "Christ-follower."

I found it interesting the logos that she recognized, but also the ones she semi-recognized, or did not recognize at all.

Recognized by name:
  • Disney
  • GE
  • Apple
  • McDonald's: "An 'M' for McDonald's and it looks like a fry...but it's an 'M'  made out of fries."
  • Nike
 Recognized product, but did not actually name the company:
  • Pepsi: "It's the pop...from the pizza place."
  • KFC: "Looks like a person...he matches the color of the restaurant."
  • Starbucks: "That is the coffee logo."
  • BP: "Gas."
  • Mercedes: "On a car."
  • XBox : "That is on a control that you use to control the TV at Ryan's house."
Did not recognize the logo at all:
  • Republican Party: "A Parade Elephant"
  • Monster Energy Drink: "Little Squirms"
  • Motorola: "That looks like an 'm'.
  • Bank of America: "Looks like the American flag."
  • Bell: "A bell."
  • Boeing: "An outside space...looks like a shooting start with a planet."
  • CBS: "An eye."
  • Chili's: "Chili, and it has an 's' next to it...and chilis are spicy."
  • Google Chrome: "that looks like a beach ball...beach balls are very colorful."
  • Gerber: "Babies...are little."
  • Greyhound: "That is a cheetah."
  • Jaguar: "A cheetah"
  • Puma: "Cheetah"
  • Target: "A letter 'o'...but it has a dot in it."
  • NBC: "A turkey that's really colorful like the rainbow."
  • Panera Bread: "That is coffee again...maybe on a restaurant?"
  • Sony Ericsson: "That looks like a marble."
  • World Wildlife Fund: "Panda bears live out in the woods, I think."
  • Olympics: "Baby toys...those look like baby toys."
Of the five that she actually did recognize by name, I was most surprised by Nike. (It would have been GE, but since her grandfather works for GE, I'm not surprised). I would definitely expect her to recognize the Apple logo given her dad's involvement in graphic arts and most likely use of Apple computers, but was definitely surprised that she tied it to the Apple store, as opposed to the products Apple produces. Also Disney was expected for obvious reasons, as well as McDonald's. Nike, I am surprised with because I do not think I was interested really in fashion or shoes or anything of the sort when I was that age. I am not sure whether this is something she just picked up from commercials, or tv, or whether Nike has an active presence in her life.

Also interesting was, for the logos that she did not actually name, her recognition of the products associated with the brands. So for Pepsi, she recognized it as "the pop," even though she did not say Pepsi. Also she recognized KFC as the restaurant, Starbucks as the coffee, BP as gas, Mercedes as a car (but also incorrectly as a peace sign--but that says something about the proliferation of the peace sign), and XBox. These were interesting to me because while the child did not associate these by name, she was able to tie it to a type of product, which arguably is almost as good as being able to actually name the brand. In fact, it might be better because the brand is recognizable without even having to "say" any words.

Finally, I found interesting in a humorous way, the logos she did not recognize. As someone noted in a comment under the video, he did not realize that the Bank of America logo was shaped like an American flag, something the girl recognized. Also, I never really examined the Boeing logo up close, but never actually looked at it close enough to notice that it was a shooting star with a planet. I found her recognition of CBS' logo as an eye interesting because I definitely did not see the eye until my teen years. I also found her associating the Jaguar, Puma, and Greyhound logos with a cheetah to be amusing, though I wonder how she would have answered if they were not shown to her back to back.

There were a couple of things I noticed from this clip:
  1. There are actually a lot of brands that this 5-year old does not recognize. I wonder if that would be the same for an average 5-year old.
  2. 5-year olds are observant
I was going to turn this into a post about marketing ethics, but there is nothing that I can really say that isn't already fairly obvious. Which can be summed up in the following sentence: "Market responsibly to children." (i.e. no Joe Camels) It's clear that if you do not want to market to children you can choose not to do so. It is the marketer's and ultimately, the company's responsibility to market ethically.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why Can't I Find Your Ad?

In this day and age of TiVo and other DVR products widely available in the market, it is a wonder to me that a company would have a television ad created--especially one that is well produced and fun to watch--that cannot also be easily found on the internet. Advertisers are up nights trying to figure out how to get people to watch ads given the fast-forward option. Most ads are utterly unwatchable, and I often find myself thinking "someone really got paid to make that commercial?" Yet here is an ad that I am voluntarily watching, nay, SEEKING OUT to watch again, and where is it? Not there. Not on youtube, not on their website.

The commercial was for Lexus from a number of years back featuring R&B musician John Legend. It was especially memorable to me because I love R&B, and especially love Nina Simone, who was singing in the background. The song was a version that I had never heard before. As splendAd describes it, "Legend describes how the music makes him feel, and how the energy gains momentum," until she gets to the point, where "'She's not going to take it any more'". It showcased the sound system in a Lexus vehicle.

There were numerous wasted selling opportunities in that ad. I would love to get my hands on--and legally download--a copy of that song. I am definitely impressed with Lexus for appreciating the awesomeness that is Nina Simone, yet if I wanted to show that commercial to someone else, I would be unable. Stupid.

I have been saying for a long time, with the advent of DVR, companies will have to start making commercials that are watchable, which means high production quality, and an intriguing storyline that can grab--and keep--a viewer's attention for the 30 seconds, or however long it is on the air. It is not as though people have stopped watching commercials altogether. I definitely stop fast-forwarding the DVR if I see a commercial that catches my eye. Yet I don't because most commercials are horrible. But if there happens to be a commercial that is especially funny or poignant, I will watch it, and watch it again, and again, and most likely make my friends watch this new hilarious ad I saw. Hell, I watched the AllState "Mayhem" commercials until I could recite every line in some of the spots. Those commercials were hilarious."I'm a teenaged girl..." HAHAHA.


What marketers must begin to do--and they have begun to realize it now--is to start making commercials that are just as well produced as--if not, better than--the shows that they will be aired during or between. Many companies have realized this. Allstate has a youtube account where they post all of their spots (including the one embedded above). And their commercials are hilarious; there is the rewatchability factor. Hopefully the day will come when commercials will be just as enjoyable to watch as the programs they are sponsoring. But probably not local advertising (those will be eternally doomed to fast-forward-dom). Although not the gem below, a long-running New Orleans staple that has tons of rewatchability:

Monday, January 23, 2012

An Introduction to my Blog

I have been tasked to start a blog about my reactions to marketing culture both as an observer and as a consumer, so I've uprooted my old blog about random stuff and replaced it with this. As for my background, I am currently an MBA student with a Finance and Investments concentration that is taking this marketing class (Culture, Consumption, and Marketing) because it was the class I sat in on when I interviewed here while applying to the University of Notre Dame MBA program, and found it to be very interesting and stimulating. As for the subject matter, I do not have that much formal experience, but I probably consume more than most, so I suppose you can say that I am actively involved in marketing...and considering the amount I consume, you can probably say that I am the target audience for a lot of marketing campaigns.