Trillium Troubles: Ontario's "Improved" Emblem

Ontario's emblem has changed, and although this "improvement" has been in existence for about a year, I'm sure there are those of you who weren't aware of this. Is there any way to reverse the decision, from "3 guys in a hot tub" back to the sweet vector trillium that has been Ontario's identity since the early '60s?
What do you think?

Misleading advertising - is it ever a good business decision?

I was reading a women's magazine this past weekend and came across an article that focused on how to read nutrition labels. It gave some tips on how not to take food packaging labels at face value. Given the health – or lack thereof – of our nation, it really angers me because nutrition labels are often confusing - if not outright misleading, making it more difficult for consumers to make healthy, informed choices.

This is particularly the case when it comes to the advertising on the front of food packaging. For example, do you know what the differences between ‘100% wheat’, ‘100% whole wheat’, ‘whole grain’, and ‘multi grain’? They all sound healthy - don't they? But they are not all of equivalent value to your health.
Click here for a resource that explains them in simple terms.

In Canada, the statement
‘fat free’ can be used on the labels of products containing under 0.5 grams of fat per serving (serving size as specified by Health Canada). So a product with 0.2 grams of trans fat and 0.2 grams of saturated fat per serving can still make the claim of being 'fat free'. Interesting, isn't it? See for yourself just how complicated things can get by visiting the Health Canada website.

What about the brands that have the word
‘organic’ in their names? Are they truly organic? Or is it just a devious tactic they are using to make you believe it’s so? There are many different organizations that establish organic standards, and their standards are not all created equal.

It's important to be aware that labels don't tell the whole story. Without lying, companies can intentionally mislead in their quest to get you to choose them over the other guy. My question is whether they are at all worried about backlash, as consumers begin to learn their nutritional ABC's? I wouldn't wait around to find out, if I were them.


"Like a visit to the dentist..."

The most common expression among marketers (aside from “It isn’t rocket surgery”) must be: "They see (insert unpleasant but necessary purchase here) like a trip to the dentist". So your intrepid blogger/marketer just went to the dentist to see how the analogy stands up. And curiously, while there, I learned something about marketing.

At the heart of it, dentistry is about getting your teeth cleaned and fixed. But like so much of the world's commerce today, dentists make a significant portion of their revenue through up-selling services, such as cosmetics, little plastic things they put in your mouth to stop your teeth from grinding, and so on. The challenge for a dentist office is to know when to offer these up-sells, and who to offer them to.

In my case, they really went about it all wrong. As the hygienist was poised to attack the plaque on my teeth, and I was in the midst of that terror that only dentistry elicits, she offered something to stop the grinding, for some enormous sum of money, “because”, she explained, "you grind an awful lot". Then, after investigating the depth of the problems inside my mouth, she offered up caps, replacements, and whitening, all of which I knew would cost a small fortune. Enough, already! Besides the cost, it made me think that I was in grave danger of severely offending my dentist because of the gravity of the situation in my mouth. I nearly got up from my chair and left.

Curiously, though, I was much more open to suggestions once the appointment was over.

So what could my dentist learn about marketing?

I refer to the first law of up-selling: provide the basic service and then maybe I'll believe in the value of other services you offer.

First-off, listen to your patient (or customer). I didn't go for extra services. Just give me the basics when I ask for them. Do not tell me the myriad of ways you want to separate me from my money while you've got your dentist tools hovering over my mouth.

Secondly, provide the dreaded service professionally (which my dentist did). Wait until we've gone down that road together. Once I have reached that sense of achievement and my teeth are clean, then, by all means, tell me how they could be even better. At that point, you've proven the quality of your service, we've gotten to know one another a bit, and I know you've listened to me. As a customer, I'm ready to move to the next step. And I may, after all, end up with that grind-stopping plastic thingy.


More than one way to get a gamer's dollar

I’ve recently been taken in by an addictive little PC game called DriftCity. A free-to-play online driving game that launched earlier this month, and it had me reflecting on the changing economy of online video games.

The subscription revenue system has worked for a long time on game-behemoths like World of Warcraft and Everquest, both of which have been around for several years and have raked in billions (yes, with a B) of dollars. But games with lesser production values and hype have been left with a problem of not being able coax players away from the game they are paying for monthly in order to try something else they will need to pay another monthly fee for.

The result of this dilemma has been a number of interesting new ways of getting money out of gamers and games.

DriftCity for example uses a revenue structure that is very common among games originating from the east, Korea in particular. A player can download and play their games for free, but the player is also allowed to purchase in-game currency using real currency. This allows them to obtain special items which will either increase their character’s stats and/or decorate their character to fit the player’s liking. An example of this would be a new hat costing about 30 cents in real-world money, allowing a player to look unique while giving them an in-game advantage, such as making the character slightly stronger or faster. Only a small percentage of players will ever actually reach for their credit cards to do this, but it is enough to cover the game’s server/staff costs, and then some. This revenue model has been surprisingly successful. The genius here is that people with only a passive interest in a particular game will likely at least try it out, thus creating a large community of registered players, the larger the group is, the more likely that game will be mentioned in the media, thus getting the attention of even more potential players.

Second Life, for example saw a tidal wave of new players join its ranks over the past year, due to the all the hype it received from news sources reporting on large companies, like Sony and Ford buying space in the game simply to advertise their products. The game itself is, and has always been free to enter and explore, but real money is required to purchase property, very similar to the Korean free-to-play model. The hype from name-brand companies creating their presence sent Second Life’s population from the hundreds and thousands, which it had hovered at for years, into the hundreds of thousands. Many groups and organizations from political campaigns to musicians and fashion designers have jumped in, and are buying up their own virtual space to show-off their real-world products.

That’s all I’ll say for now, but perhaps next time, I’ll address a new spin an old idea, in-game advertising.


I want one

Fiat has unveiled its new Fiat 500 at the Frankfurt Auto Show. For those of us who spent time in Europe in the 1980s, when there were still plenty of the originals around (Fiat produced the "Cinquecento" from 1957 to 1975), the new car is a shining example of well-packaged nostalgia. The new car evokes the old - and unlike other contemporary updates (the Mini, the New Beetle), it's still tiny, with a tiny motor (my motorcycle's engine is bigger).

There is apparently a real taste for retro-styled cars with pricey options. The company is building 120,000 a year and is afraid it won't meet demand. The car isn't even cheap - prices start at around 10,500 Euros.

Why so much success, given you could fit the car in the back of a North American SUV? It's not just the Italian love affair with the Cinquecenti. The car is the embodiment of great design. Fiat has said it wants the 500 to be the "iPod of cars": simple, clean, useful and fashionable. I wondered how long it would be before someone started building cars like iPods. In fact, I've wondered why Apple hasn't started building cars.

I took the image from iht.com

The i's have it

First, I admit openly that I am an Apple fanboy. Have been for a very long time and for reasons that would bore you to tears. But truly, I am amazed at the business velocity and dazzling maneuverability of this phenom CEO Steve Jobs.

iPod – if you don’t have one (and most of you do), you want one, and in any case you know the brand. It’s the Kleenex of mp3 players.

Increase market share? Increase power & functionality of the core concept but keep it simple and elegant — iPod video. Now make it freaking elegant and droolingly desirable, add a phone, and take away all the buttons! Voila, the iPhone. Literally everyone I talked to knew about it, had seen it and wanted it. A lot! Market lust allows for high initial price point. Even AT&T lock doesn’t dissuade early adopters.

Now, the coup de grace. Update the
iPod with all that iPhone goodness. Cut the price of the iPhone (the real money is is the service contracts) and instantly expand market share in the smart phone category. Play hero and issue a credit at the Apple store to the early adopters (gee, who benefits from that?) and further cement brand loyalty. And give everyone who has service plans with providers other than AT&T an affordable WIFI iPod Touch that pretty much is the iPhone (yes, voice too, if you think VOIP). All in a few short days, ready for the Christmas stockings. Mix well and serve in Europe. Simply stunning!

Yes, there is a risk in this kind of volatility, but compared to everyone else – all other competitors seem, well, boring.


Marketing the Mundane: Ikea Goes Viral

When one thinks of furniture, and more specifically, mattresses, words like ‘exciting’ and ‘buzz worthy’ aren’t the first descriptors that come to mind. IKEA, however, has been able to accomplish just that with the ‘Swedish Guy’ character that has been the voice in their radio spots for over a decade.

The Swedish Guy is no longer just a voice. For the first time ever, IKEA is using him visually in some of their advertising campaigns. They've launched a
‘mattress microsite’, and Swedish Guy is featured as a ‘sleep coach’. He gives advice on how to choose a mattress, how to test it, etc, and his delivery is simple, yet hilarious, as would be expected.

“Click one of these to learn more about our mattresses, but don’t click anything if you like looking at me”.

Swedish Guy is recognizable, quirky, and lovable (although to some, annoying) and
IKEA has most certainly succeeded in giving their brand more personality and strength by using him in their ads.

Check out the
microsite and see if he looks like you imagined he would.

Facebook Follow-up

I just read a great article about some things every marketer should think about when it comes to Facebook.

See it


Your brand is a person. A person on Facebook

Sometimes when we talk “brands” with clients, we refer to them as "people". It's a way of helping clients understand what is at stake in their brand, how to manage its growth and direction. A brand, after all, has a personality, it acts in the world and it makes promises. Referring to a brand as a person is a way of bringing it right down to earth.

So I’ve had this thought: “if brand X is a person, what kind of presence would brand X have on Facebook? And would Facebook be a good place to understand brand X?

What if you used Facebook to better understand your brand?

I don't mean that your brand needs a real Facebook profile - unless of course Facebook is part of your marketing mix. But the Facebook model could be used to flesh out many important aspects that drive brand strategy.

Consider some of the core features of Facebook:

1. A Facebook profile has an image (could this be a logo?)
2. A Facebook profile supplies answers to a number of questions that reflect the person's personality and interests (what makes your brand different? what is your unique sales proposition? what is your unique selling language?)
3. Facebook invites networking (what is your sales force doing?)
4. Facebook includes e-mail (how do you communicate with your customers? does your brand reach consistently across all touch points?)

So here is a test you can try:
- Create a hypothetical Facebook profile for your brand
- Fill in all the blanks using the various features offered
- See how your brand behaves from the highest strategic level down to various brand touch points.
- See what you learn, and apply that learning to your brand.